GANDER / TORONTO — Twenty years ago, the good of Gander came through when the world seemed to be at its worst.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 passengers were forced to land in the central Newfoundland town of 11,000 people. The locals took it upon themselves to clothe, feed and house people from more than 90 countries for nearly a week.
For Jeanette Gutierrez, a 9/11 survivor, Gander also feels like a second home.
Gutierrez, who was in Manhattan at the time of the attacks, first came to Gander five years ago to try making sense of what happened on that day. From her desk across the plaza at the World Trade Center, she saw both planes hit the twin towers. She says she struggles with not being in New York on this 20th anniversary.
“I can’t get away from 9/11, it’s in me, doesn’t matter where I am,” she told CTV National News. “But I have to hold on to the hope and spread the kindness, and it’s so easily found here.”
Gander marks 9/11 every year, and Saturday was no exception. A ceremony was held to acknowledge the sadness of the day, but also the hope and kindness so many people experienced.
“Atlantic Canada showed the best of humanity on a day when we all needed to be reminded of fundamental goodness,” Katherine Brucker, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy, said during the ceremony.
More American dignitaries and friends praised the outpouring of support shown by Gander 20 years ago, while locals recalled the swell of people and pride they felt.
Gutierrez also took the stage and tried to convey the impact Gander has had on her.
“I’m not sure why God led me here, but I’m so happy he did. I am a better person for having met you all,” Gutierrez told the crowd. “Thank you for shining such a bright light on my darkest day.”
Bill Hooper, former mayor of the nearby town of Lewisporte, told CTV National News that Sept. 11 in Gander is dedicated to its residents who two decades ago put all else aside to help others, and in turn, helped themselves.
“I think we became better people out of something that was so sad,” Hooper said.