NEW PORT RICHEY – Americans gathered in communities small and large last Wednesday to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 – the lives taken too soon, the heroics of first responders and so much more.

New Port Richey, as it has every year since the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pa., hosted its annual September 11 Memorial at Sims Park.

Hundreds of residents gathered at the park’s band shell to take in a program that included words from a 9/11 survivor, a retired NYPD officer, a retired NYFD firefighter and patriotic songs performed by area schoolchildren.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, led by retired NYPD Officer Louis Kikis and retired FDNY firefighter Joe Sprowls, attendees remained standing for the singing of the National Anthem by Heather Lynn Mendoza.

Religious leaders within the community spoke to the crowd from the dais, including Rabbi Yossi Eber from Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco. Eber mentioned the continued importance of education in helping reduce and eliminate future tragedies.

“This knowledge will sustain us and our children and create a better world for generations to come,” Eber said.

This year’s guest speaker was Anne Koster, a Sept. 11 survivor who was working on the 81st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when a plane made impact.

Elected city and county officials attended the memorial, including New Port Richey Mayor Robert Marlowe, who addressed the crowd early in the evening. Marlowe said he was at a chamber of commerce meeting at the New Port Richey Public Library on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he first learned of the attacks. Almost a year to the day after the tragedy, on Sept. 10, 2002, he told of how he and his wife took their son to Tampa to be sworn into the United States Navy.

“I see a number of veterans in the audience tonight and I thank all of you for your service because nobody knows like a veteran, or a member of a veteran’s family, the sacrifices that are necessary in order to keep America safe and to protect our citizens,” Marlowe said.

Students from Odessa Elementary School, Mitchell High School and Seven Springs Middle School sang during periods throughout last week’s memorial. Attendees who walked to the band shell from downtown or Orange Lake along Circle Boulevard passed by a wall of patriotic and Sept. 11-related artwork created by local students.