St. Sebastian youths who raised money among group traveling to Shanksville to see memorial

When students from St. Sebastian School travel from Akron to Shanksville, Pa., Tuesday morning for the annual 9-11 remembrance, they will gaze upon a memorial they helped build.

St. Sebastian students raised nearly $500 last year through “Jeans Day” donations that allowed them to trade their uniform slacks and skirts for denim. The contributions went to HALO, an Akron nonprofit that has been a key fundraiser for the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Because of the students’ efforts, HALO leaders invited them to attend the first 9-11 event since the Tower of Voices was completed, marking the final phase of the memorial for the 40 crew members and passengers who died in the terrorist attack 17 years ago.

“It will be amazing,” said Noah Meyer, 14, an eighth-grader at St. Sebastian. “Our generation sees the 9-11 tragedies in a history book.”

Attending the memorial will make this history come to life, he said.

Fifty students from St. Sebastian will attend the remembrance, along with another 50 students from several other Akron-area schools, including Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Litchfield Middle School, the University of Akron and Walsh University.

The Tower of Voices is a 93-foot tower that features 40 unique chimes to represent the voices of those killed when they sacrificed themselves to keep the terrorists who had hijacked Flight 93 from crashing the plane into its suspected target in Washington, D.C.

The monument, under construction for the past two years, was officially dedicated in a ceremony Sunday. Tuesday’s event will feature remarks from President Donald Trump.

St. Sebastian students will meet at the West Akron school at 5 a.m. to make the 185-mile journey to Shanksville, which is about a three-hour drive. The ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m., with students able to get a closer look afterward at the tower and tour the visitor’s center, which includes recordings of the final phone calls made by those on the flight.

Sharon Deitrick, the founder of HALO (Hope Always Lives On), met with the students Friday to share with them the stories behind those who died. She has made it her mission to teach young people about what happened on the downed plane.

Deitrick has helped with and attended the Flight 93 remembrance since the first anniversary. Each year, she has taken students to the event. She said the middle-school students and some of the high school students who attend the event this year may not yet have been born when 9/11 happened, but many of them know more about Flight 93 than their parents or grandparents.

“It’s so significant,” Deitrick said. “They know the story and now they get to see and hear first-hand on telephone recordings everything they’ve learned. They are very, very proud to keep the story alive.”

With the memorial now completed, HALO has shifted its focus to raising money for disaster relief, which is done in honor of Flight 93.

St. Sebastian students are continuing to help with HALO's efforts. They made and sold 300 beaded bracelets at a HALO gala fundraiser last week, which raised about $725 for the nonprofit.

Anne Rea, a seventh-grader who helped with the bracelet effort, went to Shanksville the night before the remembrance with her mother, father and three siblings, who were almost as excited about the event as her.

Carrie Rea, Anne’s mother, has driven past the memorial, but never stopped. She’s pleased the students are learning about Flight 93.

“They want to make sure it is not forgotten,” she said.

St. Sebastian eighth-grader Andy Thomas said he finds it interesting that those on Flight 93 were able to put political, religious and racial differences aside and work together in a pressure situation, even voting on whether to take back the plane.

“Democracy shined through,” he said.

Noah Meyer said he thinks these heroic actions should serve as a positive example in this divided time.

“We can all come together in times of crisis for the greater good,” he said.

Al Rose, who has taught social studies at St. Sebastian for 12 years, is pleased that the students will have the chance to be at the memorial at 10:04 a.m., the exact time when the plane crashed. He said this will help students gain a more full understanding of what happened that day.

“It’s just important to bring history to the present and learn from the past and prevent the negative from happening again,” Rose said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com, and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.