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Whitestone school dedicates bell to 9/11 victims

The dream of a Whitestone school's principal came true Saturday when an old school bell was unveiled and dedicated to the victims of Sept. 11 and an American flag was hoisted up a flag pole on the school's roof.

"Ever since I discovered a large school bell on the roof six years ago that was weathered and covered in tar but nonetheless beautiful, I've dreamed about bringing it down," said Barbara Reiter, the principal of St. Luke's School at 16-01 150th Place.

The bell, which was placed on the school's roof around 1916, was used to summon students to class in the morning and after recess, said Reiter. The bell was rung by pulling on a rope that hung outside of a first-floor classroom window.

Reiter said when the bell was finally brought down from the roof of the school, she immediately thought it should be dedicated to the victims of Sept. 11, especially since seven members of the St. Luke's Church, which is housed in the same building as the school, died in the World Trade Towers after the attacks.

Flanked by policemen, fire officials and church officials, Reiter told the story of how the bell was refurbished and brought down to the school's front lawn, where it stands today, behind a plaque that reads "St. Luke Remembers. This memorial is dedicated to the victims of September 11, 2001. May they rest in peace."

Reiter also told the story of an 8-year-old boy in the third grade who drew a beautiful picture of the school, with a bare flag pole on its roof. When the boy's mother told him to draw a flag on the flagpole, the boy said he could not because there was never a flag on the pole, said the principal.

With the song "I'm Proud to Be an American" playing from loud speakers, an American flag was finally hoisted onto the school's flag pole Saturday, which was Flag Day, as parents of St. Luke's students and other invited guests clapped and cheered. Shortly afterwards, the school's bell was unveiled and blessed with holy water.

"The tragedy that struck America on Sept. 11, 2001, showed the worst of mankind," said Anthony Kitero, a member of the Fire Department. "It also showed the best of mankind. It brought people together. I will never forget all the people standing along the West Side Highway applauding police, EMS and firemen as they came in and out of ground zero."

Capt. Rosco Citeno from Tower Ladder 144 in Whitestone said the remains of a firefighter who he knew had died on Sept. 11 and had just been identified a few days ago on what happened to be the victim's birthday.

"Just yesterday, they had the mass 18 months after 9/11, and the weird part about it is it was on his birthday," said Citeno. "The situation sends chills up my spine."

Several parents at the event said they had graduated from St. Luke's and remembered when the school bell worked and the flag flew above the school.

John Tiburzi, the father of two children who attend St. Luke's, said the bell would be a tribute to a day that no one would ever forget.

"My ex-boss's son died in 9/11, and one of the teachers had a sister that was killed in 9/11," said Tiburzi, who was on the 36th floor of his office building in midtown Manhattan when the planes struck the Twin Towers. "I will never forget it. It is something I will carry with me to my grave."

After the ceremony, pieces of Tower Two at the World Trade Center were brought out in a basket for people to take home as souvenirs.

"They say never forget, and I don't think anybody should," said Sgt. Richard Guerico of the 111th Precinct. "It'll always be there."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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