By Ryan Lavis and Kiawana Rich Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — They may have mended the fence lining Angels’ Circle, but nothing could repair the hearts of the families gathered there on Tuesday evening to pay tribute to Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Besides observing the borough’s victims, this year’s ceremony included a moment of silence for 20-year-old Megan Marotte, whose life became strangely and sadly intertwined with the Grasmere memorial during the summer.
After crashing her car into Angels’ Circle back in July while allegedly impaired by drugs behind the wheel, the pregnant Ms. Marotte had told the site’s founder and primary caretaker, Wendy Pellegrino, that she would help to repair the damages she had caused to the property.
Ultimately, her promise went unfulfilled.
Ms. Marotte went missing soon after the crash and police found her dead a month later in Willowbrook Park; apparently she was slain during a sexual encounter. She left behind both grieving family members and friends, as well as over a thousand dollars in damages to Angels’ Circle.
“She was a good kid. I think she just had a hard life,” said Ms. Pellegrino, who had hoped that she could work with Ms. Marotte to help her get her life back on track.
“Before the fence got repaired, every time I would go there and see the hole she left behind, I would know that that’s where all this started. In my wildest dreams I never would have thought it would end like this,” said Ms. Pellegrino.
In between her mourning the fate of Ms. Marotte, she also spent the past two months readying Angels’ Circle for her annual September 11 memorial — something that required a helping hand from the community she has supported for over a decade.
“My ceremony is about 9/11 so I didn’t want to focus too much on this tragedy, but I do want to acknowledge that Megan became connected to Angels’ Circle in a very strange way,” she said. “Now she’s with the angels — that’s how I feel about it.”
A Brooklyn-based iron works company, B&B, stepped up and donated its services to rebuild the fence free of charge after the owner’s 15-year-old daughter, RoseMarie Manzo, told him about the situation. She had been scheduled to sing during Tuesday’s ceremony.
Ariemma’s Garden Center in Dongan Hills, which has donated flowers year-round since the site’s inception, also helped out. Ms. Pellegrino had already received several donations, and will now put that money toward maintaining the memorial year-round.
“People don’t realize that I don’t get anything from the government to run this,” she said. “It’s solely run by me and volunteers. A lot of the expenses come out of my pocket. Now I’ll have this money to put toward expenses all year long.”
While Ms. Pellegrino had hoped to teach Ms. Marotte about sacrifice through the lives that are memoralized at Angels’ Circle, she also wants to continue her mission of teaching children about the stories behind the pictures strewn throughout the tribute site.
“We’re all getting older. I started this thing 12 years ago; I’m 64 now. The next generation needs to be brought into this so it can continue into the future. I want this to be more than just a history lesson for them.”
More than 300 people attended Tuesday’s remembrance. As the sun set amidst swaying American flags and beautiful flowers, many wiped tears from their eyes remembering loved ones lost in the attack. Numerous firefighters and police officers were on hand to honor their fallen brethren.
“It always feels like the very first time because everybody is always heartbroken,” said Ms. Pellegrino, of the 12th anniversary. “It’s still a very difficult thing, they lost their children — you never get over losing your children. So even though it’s 12 years, to me, it’s like the first year.”
Ms. Pellegrino led the program and also read poetry and the names of Islanders lost in 9/11, occasionally fighting back tears as she read.
Photos of the loved ones were placed throughout the memorial, each having a single rose and candle nearby.
Battling a respiratory infection, “American Idol” contestant Brielle Von Hugel donated her voice to provide musical performances of “There You’ll Be” and “Hero”.
An award was presented to Staten Island Pipes and Drums.
The Moore Catholic School Choir sung “Amazing Grace” and Rose Marie Manzo sang, “God Bless America.”
Also participating was the Rev. Richard Pellegrino.