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NYC Out of the ashes Monday, 10 December, 2001, 11:20 GMT
Warwick: Lighting the tree
Warwick's crib marks the beginning of the celebrations
Peter Gould

Three months on from terror and tragedy, BBC News Online travels to Warwick to see how New York's commuter belt is dealing with 11 September.

It is a scene acted out at this time of the year in communities across America.

The lighting of the Christmas tree is part of the familiar build up to the festive season.

It provides a comforting sense of normal life as thoughts turn towards home and the family.

In the small community of Warwick, in upstate New York, the ceremony always attracts quite a few people.

But this year, they turned out in their hundreds, far more than usual.

Extra significance

The mayor, Michael Newhard, believes the traditional ceremony has taken on new significance after the events of September 11.

"Lighting the tree is one of the wonderful, normal events that take place in our community," he says.

"It is normally well attended, but this year families were out in force, and I think it is because of that.

"Our thought is to light these lights as a testament against terrorism."

Mayor  of Warwick Michael Newhard
Mayor Newhard: Festivities have extra significance this year

Warwick is within commuting distance of Manhattan. And the attacks on the World Trade Center brought tragedy to many such communities around New York.

Eight of the victims lived in Warwick, so just about everyone in the community knows someone who died, or their family.

They included six firefighters, an architect, and a local woman who was in the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Shared grief

One of the firefighters who died was Battalion Chief John Williamson, a 46-year-old father of two.

His daughter Jessica is 17, and a senior at the local High School. Since September 11, she has become good friends with another girl who also lost her father.

"We have talked about it and shared our feelings," says Jessica.

"We can relate to each other because we know how each other feels."

Jessica says the past three months have passed quickly. Now with Christmas approaching fast, there is another emotive occasion to get through.

"I am nervous about it, because a big part of out family will be missing, but I just try to take one day at a time," she says.

Packed churches

Many people have clearly found comfort in their religion. Father Thomas Byrnes is priest at St Stephen's Catholic Church, and also chaplain to the local volunteer fire department.

"Normally, the church is only really full at Easter and Christmas, times like that," he says.

"But I have never seen so many people at church as there were on the weekend after September 11. The masses were overflowing...people turned to God.

"Now, people are trying to allow the joy of the season to build them up. People do realise once more that there is good in the world."

Three months on, the dreadful images of terrorism still haunt people of all ages, including local children.
Santa on main street Warwick
Santa heralds the beginning of Christmas on Warwick main street

A few days ago, when the mayor had to judge an art competition at the local kindergarten, he found that nearly every picture either depicted the attack on the Twin Towers, or else was a reflection of patriotic feelings.

Michael Newhard says support within the community for the bereaved families has been tremendous.

"There has been an outpouring of support and love," he says.

"It's been like a shock wave and we're still dealing with it. We are all emotionally charged, and Christmas will be a difficult time.

"But at the same time there will be a tremendous amount of joy, because one thing that comes out of it is that we are a united community and a united nation."

Sense of community

Father Thomas Byrnes says he has been particularly moved by the way the community has pulled together.

"In the days that followed the attacks, my phone was jumping off the wall with non-stop calls," he recalls.

"People wanted to know what services we were holding, and were asking if they could volunteer to help in any way.

"Life has returned to a different type of normality. There is still a scar, a wound, and we are all still dealing with that.

"With Christmas coming up, people are more conscious of the family, and of doing things together. They are finding their own victory over what has happened."

It has been said many times since September 11 that America has been changed by the experience, and Warwick's mayor, Michael Newhard, agrees.

"There is a much greater sense of community for sure," he says.

"That one incident was so incredible it has been burned into our mind's eye.

"It still draws people together, especially at the holiday season, and I think it will continue for quite a long time."

Jessica Williamson has also seen a change in the community.

"I think the way people view life is different now," she says.

"We don't take things for granted."

Links to more NYC Out of the ashes stories are at the foot of the page.

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