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Detroit commemorates 9/11 victims, local first responders

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — On a day when Detroit first responders gathered downtown to celebrate those who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, 14-year-old Derek Stone honored the memory of the man he called "my hero" — his father, Derek Stone, Sr.

Martin Szelag, 66, of Dearborn Heights prays during a special memorial ceremony for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Stone, a Detroit firefighter, died of cancer Feb. 24. His son was among the families of Detroit firefighters who died in recent years, who were asked by Fire Commissioner Eric Jones to stand and be recognized during a memorial ceremony Wednesday in Campus Martius. 

"It means a lot," Derek said of Jones' gesture. "Whenever I got in trouble, my dad was there to help me. It's still real tough. At night when I sit in my room, he's all I think about. But I don't get sad; I'm happy I got to spend 14 years with him, but I wish I had more."

Detroit has heroes, too, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says, in first responders.

A procession of fire trucks and police vehicles up Woodward, their lights flashing, preceded Wednesday's hour-long ceremony. Then, Mayor Mike Duggan praised the public safety "heroes" who responded to the terror attacks 18 years ago — and, he added, Detroit has heroes of its own.

"We celebrate the courage (of the New York police officers, firefighters and EMTs), and we celebrate our own first responders here in Detroit," Duggan said.

Police Chief James Craig said it's important to honor the memory of those who died fighting terrorism over the years, adding police have an ongoing challenge: "Domestic terrorism" — the mass shootings that have occurred in recent years.

Detroit police Chief James Craig, at the 9/11 ceremony, reminds people that terrorist attacks "can happen anywhere."

"These are happening in places you wouldn't think," Craig said. "Who'd have thought there'd be a shooting at a concert in Las Vegas ... or Dayton, Ohio? It can happen anywhere."

Rainer Drolshagen, acting special agent in charge of Detroit's FBI office, said he was in training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Drolshagen said a supervisor "went to the podium and said, 'We believe in the next 10 years, there'll be a major incident in the United States.' Within 15 minutes, he was proven right.

"We are forever changed," Drolshagen said. "As individuals, we have a heightened sense of how fragile life is. We're also vividly aware there are people who hate us, hate our way of life and are willing to kill thousands of people because of that hatred."

Craig, who in September 2001 was an assistant to former Los Angeles police chief Bernard Parks, said after airplanes hit the World Trade Center buildings, he and his boss were convinced they were going to be the terrorists' next target.

"He thought what I thought: LA is next," Craig said. "We responded to prepare for an attack."

Craig said first responders' lives "dramatically changed" after the terror attacks.

"We're in a constant state of readiness," he said. "Even with this event; what if someone wants to attack us on this day? We've got to always be ready."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN