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'We can't forget,' Tallmadge candle display honors all 9/11 victims

Event burns nearly 3,000 candles for 24 hours
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Posted at 4:42 PM, Sep 08, 2021

TALLMADGE, Ohio — Fire Chief Mike Passarelli was in the Tallmadge fire station on the morning of September 11, 2001 and watched TV coverage in horror as two planes slammed into the World Trade Center.

"You could see this was a terrorist (attack) when the second tower was hit," Passarelli said.

Later that morning, Passarelli attended a funeral for a Tallmadge police officer. Outside of a church, the chief was drawn to an odd flight pattern of a plane overhead.

"The low-flying large aircraft that made a big, wide sweeping turn right over this airspace and that was Flight 93," he said.

The United flight crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania killing everyone on board as passengers tried to regain control of the plane.

Twenty years later, memories from the tragic day are seared into Passarelli's mind.

"It takes me back and it still does," he said. "To me, I can't believe it has been 20 years. It seems like it was just a few years ago."

To do his part to never forget, Passarelli helped organize a giant candle-lighting event on the city's circle.

Around 9:30 a.m on Saturday, there will be a service and then nearly 3,000 candles will be lit, one for each victim who died at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania; 343 red candles for firefighters; 60 blue candles for police officers; 55 green candles for military personnel and more than 2,500 white candles for civilians.

The glowing display draws a crowd and is especially impressive at night.

Tallmadge resident Ralph Jordan has helped set up the candles every year since 2004.

"Everyone you set out there was a human life. They didn't know this was coming. Nobody knew this was coming," Jordan said. "It sort of makes me tingle to know that many people died, lives all over the world were changed forever."

Passsarelli said looking at all of the candles is emotional and overwhelming for many people who visit.

"When you line them up and eight inches apart over the whole park setting of the circle, it drives the point home," he said.

Jordan, 68, said the display is just one example of a Northeast Ohio community doing its part to always remember the lives lost.

"We can't forget. I'll do it as long as I'm taking breath," Jordan said. "I just feel I got to be there."