9/11 memorial poster of Jackson Heights firefighter torn down; fiancée ‘hurt’

By Salvatore Licata Queens Courier

Damaged site of memorial poster Photo by Salvatore Licata Queens Courier

Damaged site of memorial poster Photo by Salvatore Licata Queens Courier

Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, Tanya Villanueva Tepper hangs a brand-new poster on a tree in Jackson Heights in memory of her fiancé Sergio Villanueva, a firefighter who perished during the terrorist attack.

Normally, the poster remains affixed to the tree until Tepper replaces it.

But this year, she had to replace it early as it was torn down from its spot in the beginning of October.

“I don’t know or understand why people would do that,” said Tepper. “It hurts my heart.”

Tepper decided to hang the poster in front of the gift shop Inner Peace, located at 79-24 37th Ave., which she once owned with Villanueva, because she wanted people to remember the 33-year-old firefighter as a person and not just a name.

The poster, filled with pictures of Villanueva and his family along with a few words describing the type of man he was, was tied down with rope and string to prevent it being dislodged by strong winds.

But the poster was apparently torn down once several years ago and again last month.

Poster courtesy of Tanya Villanueva Tepper

Poster courtesy of Tanya Villanueva Tepper

“I’ve never heard any backlash from the community,” said Tepper. “I just want to ask the person who is doing it, ‘Does it make you uncomfortable?’”

The current owner of the store, Marisol Dittmer, who was also a close friend of Villanueva, said she welcomes the poster and loves having Tepper come and put it up.

“I don’t understand why someone would do this,” Dittmer said. “He was such a great man, always loving, and this poster is meant to show that.”

In front of the tree, there is also a plaque dedicated to Villanueva. Hanging the poster there made it a “little sanctuary” for Tepper during the tender times of the anniversary.

“Life goes by so fast sometimes,” Tepper said. “I want people to see this poster and plaque and just slow down and think about life and how special it is.”

Even though it was taken down, Tepper did not hesitate to replace the poster. Over the weekend, she hung it up to keep Sergio’s memory alive.

She said that she just hopes this would be the last time she would have to replace it until next year on the anniversary.

“I have no malice when putting the poster up, but it’s all malice when they rip it down,” Tepper said. “I just want people to walk by it and realize how precious life is and that the best life you can live is being the best person you can be for others.”

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