A day of remembrance

Thousands pay respects on anniversary of I-35W bridge collapse

Hundreds of first responders, survivors, friends and family of victims and others packed the Stone Arch Bridge across the Mississippi River Aug. 1 to remember those who died in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse a year earlier.

With Mayor R.T. Rybak, Police Chief Tim Dolan, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and other leaders out front, the crowd followed fire trucks, squad cars, ambulances and the mournful wail of bagpipes in a processional to the Stone Arch from nearby Gold Medal Park. It was the final ceremony ending a day of memorial events including a service at the Basilica of St. Mary and music and dance performances that preceded the processional.

As ceremony attendees embraced loved ones and wiped away tears, Minneapolis Police Inspector Mike Martin read the names of the 13 people who died when the bridge went down. A dove was released after a moment of silence for each victim and upriver, a U.S. flag was unfurled from the nearly complete I-35W bridge replacement.

“It’s been a really kind of unusual day,” Martin said after the ceremony. “We were so busy when the bridge collapsed and the things we had to do, you don’t have time to stop and think about the human tragedy or how it affects the loved ones.

“But over the last year we’ve learned about a lot of those things, and to see those people again and not only have them thank us for what we did out here, but also to ask us questions about things that are still in their minds that they don’t have answered about what occurred, I think it was a good event. And I think this will help a lot of families.”

The ceremony helped bring closure for many attendees, including Minneapolis firefighter Robert Sayers, who was with the first unit to arrive at the collapse scene. Sayers said he hadn’t seen many of the survivors he helped pull to safety since the disaster.

“What I sense is a lot of healing,” he said. “I’ve met with some of the families that I’ve wanted to see over this past year, but didn’t have a chance to.”

Collapse survivor Andy Gannon, from Apple Valley, walked in the procession with his wife, Kim Shaff, who comforted him as the names of victims were read. The week leading up to the anniversary was difficult for Gannon, Shaff said, but it was important to be at the ceremony.

“It’s not quite closure for him, but it’s one step closer to closure,” she said. 

Plenty of ceremony attendees had no direct connection to bridge victims, such as Minneapolis resident Ashley Roberts, who showed up to offer support.

“It almost feels like I was on the bridge with them with how close this community is,” Roberts said. “We’re all family in the state of Minnesota. One way or another we all knew someone, even if it wasn’t directly. I think we all got scared.”

Construction workers wearing bright yellow vests made a big showing at the ceremony. Crews have been working around the clock on the new $234 million I-35W bridge, which already spanned the river days before the one-year anniversary of the collapse.