Charity Foundation Says It Will Mount NYC 9/11 Tribute Lights After Scrapped Plans Due to Pandemic

A charity organization announced Friday it would take charge of the annual light show in New York City meant to honor 9/11 victims after officials canceled the usual plan out of coronavirus concerns.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity honoring firefighter Stephen Siller who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said it would do "everything in its power" to ensure that the annual light show continues this year.

Typically, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum sponsors "Tribute in Light," a public art installation that projects twin beams up to 4 miles into the sky each Sept. 11. The lights resemble the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers, which collapsed during 2001 attacks.

But museum officials announced Thursday that they could not safely put on the beloved tradition this year, citing health risks.

"This incredibly difficult decision was reached in consultation with our partners after concluding the health risks during the pandemic were far too great for the large crew required to produce the annual Tribute in Light," according to a statement on the museum's website.

Tribute in Light
A view of the "Tribute in Light" for the 15th anniversary of 9/11 during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 11, 2016 in New York City. A charity organization announced August 14, 2020, that it would take charge of the annual light show after officials canceled the original plan because of coronavirus concerns. Mike Coppola/Getty

Instead, the memorial and museum said it planned to conduct "Tribute in Lights," partnering with NYC & Company and iconic buildings throughout the city to light them up in blue to commemorate the 19th anniversary of 9/11.

In another annual tradition, speakers typically read aloud the names of all 2,977 people killed in the attacks at Ground Zero, the site of the former Twin Towers. Museum officials announced that they would instead play a recording of the names, WABC-TV reported.

"This decision is difficult to understand," Congressman Max Rose, a Democrat from New York, tweeted after the museum's announcement. "These lights have become a painful, but beautiful tribute and are part of upholding our promise to never forget those we lost. The 9/11 Memorial Foundation should reconsider."

This decision is difficult to understand. These lights have become a painful, but beautiful tribute and are part of upholding our promise to never forget those we lost. The 9/11 Memorial Foundation should reconsider.

— Max Rose (@MaxRose4NY) August 14, 2020

But Tunnel to Towers proposed a solution. Frank Siller, the organization's CEO, told Newsweek that it will "100 percent" deliver the light installation, planning to call it "Towers of Light."

After learning of the museum's announcement, Siller decided to act. While he acknowledged that the feat wouldn't be easy, Siller said the foundation "isn't afraid of the challenge" and that they've already received an overwhelmingly positive response to their plan and plenty of support.

Siller, who lost his brother, Stephen, during the attacks, described the annual light installation as an "iconic vision" in New York City.

"To be able to see those lights up there, it's just a reminder of the sacrifice and the loss of life of that day," he said. "It's just a beautiful way to pay homage and to honor those who died on 9/11."

Siller said that the foundation has secured the lights necessary to build the installation and would begin construction near Ground Zero soon. Tunnel to Towers will partner with a local company in charge of overseeing the project.

The foundation is hiring Broadway light technicians who've been out of work because of the pandemic, and some of the engineers who've worked on the project in previous years have also volunteered, Siller said.

The foundation's website stated it would also be responsible for the "reading of the names."

"This year, amidst our hardships and obstacles, we will not forget them," according to the website, adding that the organization would ensure the 140 readers' health and safety, requiring that they wear masks and practice social distancing.

Siller encouraged everyone working and attending the event to wear masks, maintain social distancing and practice hand hygiene. The CEO said he was confident that the annual tribute and its construction could happen safely and successfully this year, despite the ongoing pandemic.

Rose later tweeted his thanks to the organization, praising them for "stepping up to ensure we keep our promise to never forget" the 9/11 victims.

Updated 5:19 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to include comments from Tunnel to Towers.