The Ground Zero 360: A 9/11 Retrospective exhibit, which honors the first responders and civilians who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, opened this week at the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley. 

To kick off the exhibit’s run, the council hosted individuals who were acutely impacted by the event.

Maggie McDonnell-Tiberio’s late husband, Brian Grady McDonnell, was a police officer in the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit and died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center while working to evacuate the building. She said that her husband’s body was never recovered.

McDonnell-Tiberio and her children lent items of her husband’s to the Ground Zero 360 exhibit, joining several other families in doing so. The items of the fallen loved ones represent the 2,996 lives taken nearly 18 years ago — and particularly the hundreds of first responders who died, she said.

The exhibit also includes crosses cut from World Trade Center steel by ironworkers, as well as a flag that flew over Ground Zero. Recently, the collection grew to include a “Survivor Tree” cast in bronze and steel from the World Trade Center and the Freedom Tower.

It also includes a large wall that is nearly full with “missing” posters made in the hours and days following the attacks.

As it is First Responders Day, Arts Council marketing director Brian Blake said area first responders and the public are invited to view the exhibit between 1 and 4 p.m. today. It will be available to view through Nov. 11.

McDonnell-Tiberio told The Eagle on Friday afternoon that in the initial years following her husband Brian’s death, she attended the annual remembrance at Ground Zero in New York, but found that her needs changed over time. She said by about 2006, when she realized that his body would not be recovered, she needed to find another way to mourn each September.

“I realized after that that I just could not go back to Ground Zero — it wasn’t something that comforted me,” McDonnell-Tiberio said. “I would much rather be here spreading his name and telling people about him — talking about who he was before September 11th instead of focusing only on the horror of what happened that day. 

“In doing so, it allowed me to think, ‘OK, if he were here, what would he want?’ At the same time, I couldn’t be him — I had to be me, but a different version of me. I had to be stronger, more organized, and I had to learn to depend on myself.”

McDonnell-Tiberio reflected on living through what she described as “a very public grief.” She said she has been grateful for the outpouring of support she and her children have received over the years, and simultaneously “wanted to hide under a rock” as each anniversary approached.

“I had to find a way to go forward and make new plans for us, realizing how many things on our ‘to do’ list that we just never did,” she said Friday. “We never went to Disney World with the kids, and we never got a professional family photo taken — these are things that people take for granted and just put off.”

Paul McCormack, a retired police officer who was the captain of the NYPD’s 41st Precinct on 9/11, said Friday that the exhibit’s symbolic towers, which are both engraved with the names of all 2,996 victims, are 9 feet, 11 inches tall. In addition to honoring Brian McDonnell, the exhibit features displays for Moira Smith, the only woman from the NYPD to die on 9/11, and Kevin O’Rourke of the FDNY, among others. Ten families are involved, he said.

McCormack, who spent about three months following the attacks at Ground Zero, is the husband of Nicola McClean, a New York-based Irish photographer who responded to the terrorist attacks by going on the scene and taking photos of first responders and others throughout lower Manhattan on the day of the attacks.

McCormack said Ground Zero 360 made its debut in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at Chicago’s Field Museum. He said it has appeared in about 35 locations, including several cities in Texas and a few spots internationally. 

“Texans get it, and the response here has been overwhelming,” McCormack said of the Brazos Valley’s reception of the exhibit. “We said we wanted to get it here to College Station; it was a three-year odyssey to get it here, but there’s something special about Texas and about Texans.” 

Arts Council board member and artist Coleen Bradfield is among those who worked to bring the exhibit to Bryan-College Station. She said Friday that the “never forget” mantra is something she and the council take seriously, particularly as new generations grow up who were born after the attacks. 

“This exhibit has paintings with the faces of those lost shadowed within the canvas,” Bradfield said. “They have artifacts and personal belongings, they have pieces of granite and pieces of the metal — they have the tree that survived and has been bronzed. It’s such an important and significant part of our history.”

Bradfield said that art, whether visual, spoken or written, can help with grieving processes.

“For a lot of us — whether we sculpt or paint or whether we’re a performing artist — we like to express ourselves. And when something like 9/11 happens, the emotional impact will sometimes come out in the colors we use and in the shapes we make,” Bradfield said.

Bradfield encouraged people young and old to attend the exhibit “with an open mind.” 

“I encourage people to really allow themselves to be emotionally moved by what they see,” she said. “Look at what you’re really seeing, feel the emotions that come, and if it brings tears to your eyes, let the tears flow.”

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