JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Early on Sept. 11, roughly 200 community members gathered in the Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church sanctuary to honor lives lost in the infamous terrorist attacks 20 years ago.
The Rotary Club of Johns Creek and the Rotary Club of Johns Creek-North Fulton co-hosted the Saturday morning event.
Johns Creek first responders attended en masse, including Police Chief Mark Mitchell and Fire Chief Chris Coons.
The Autrey Mill Middle School chorus, made up entirely of children born after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, performed four songs during the ceremony.
Veteran and community leader Roger Wise led attendees in the pledge of allegiance before speakers delivered remarks.
Former Johns Creek resident and retired Air Force Lt. General Glenn Spears recounted his experience at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Spears said that on the evening of 9/11 he escorted then President George W. Bush at Andrews a few hours before Bush’s famous address to the nation.
“I greeted the President as he descended the stairs of Air Force One,” Spears said. “As we walked from Air Force One to Marine One, the President paused, looked me straight in the eye, and said, ‘Make no mistake. We will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.’”
Spears concluded his remarks by calling upon attendees to remember, to celebrate and to act.
“Celebrate those who served, celebrate those who continue to serve and join those who act,” Spears said. “If we are to grow stronger and more resilient, if we are to build a more perfect union, we must remember, celebrate and act.”
Alpharetta mother of two, Beth Zampieri, also shared her memories from 9/11.
It was her third day at a new job and Zampieri had just started to decorate her window cubicle on the 51st floor of the North Tower at the World Trade Center when the first plane stuck.
She said she remembered thinking it was an earthquake when she felt the building shake. As the smell of gasoline began to fill the air, her and her coworkers began to file down packed stairwells to evacuate.
Zampieri recounted the slow pace moving down the more than four dozen flights of stairs to safety and having to shift to one side of the stairwell to allow firefighters to pass on their way to rescue other tenants and quell the blaze above.
“What I now realize, is that the firefighters knew exactly what had happened,” Zampieri said. “They knew exactly what they were walking into, and yet they continued to walk up.”
It wasn’t until she made it out of the building, Zampieri said, and saw both towers engulfed in flames, that she understood that this was not an accident and that the United States was under attack.
About a month later Zampieri began to struggle with acute post-traumatic stress disorder. She manages it well to this day, but said it was triggered again over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both experiences, Zampieri said, solidified her admiration for first responders and their families and the emotional toll — as well as the physical toll — they experience in the regular course of their jobs.
Every year since 2001, Zampieri and her family have used the memorial date as a day of service, crafting homemade cards and baking cookies for area first responders. But this year, Zampieri enlisted the help of students from both of her children’s schools: Dolvin Elementary and Autrey Mill Middle School.
Zampieri said that after the memorial she and her family would deliver almost 700 student-made cards to fire departments and police stations in Alpharetta and Johns Creek.
“It’s just our small way of giving thanks,” Zampieri said.
Before concluding, Zampieri shared a note she left at one of the many impromptu memorials she attended in the days following the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan’s Union Square Park.
“To the firemen who were walking up World Trade Center as I was escaping: You are my heroes, our prayers are with you, you will not be forgotten.”
Her final ask of the audience was to thank first responders for their service.
“Please say thank you to the first responders who keep us all safe,” Zampieri said. “They ran into the building so that I could run out.”
At the end of the memorial, all first responders in attendance made their way to the stage to be recognized and were met with a standing ovation.