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Remains of unidentified 9/11 victims to be moved to museum Saturday

By Adam Reiss and Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Artifacts from ground zero get a preview at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. Among them is a cross made out of steel from the World Trade Center in the 2001 attacks. The museum opens its doors Thursday, May 15, to the 9/11 community -- survivors, rescuers and families -- almost 13 years after terrorists hijacked and crashed four airliners into the towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. The museum will open to the public May 21. Artifacts from ground zero get a preview at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. Among them is a cross made out of steel from the World Trade Center in the 2001 attacks. The museum opens its doors Thursday, May 15, to the 9/11 community -- survivors, rescuers and families -- almost 13 years after terrorists hijacked and crashed four airliners into the towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. The museum will open to the public May 21.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The remains will be moved to the September 11 memorial museum on Saturday
  • Victims' families were informed of move in an e-mail from city officials
  • Decision to house remains in a repository in the museum remains controversial

New York (CNN) -- Remains of the unidentified victims of the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center are to be moved to a repository in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on Saturday, 11 days before the museum opens to the public, according to a letter from New York officials to victims' families.

"The transfer will be conducted in a dignified and respectful manner, while also ensuring the protection and security of the remains during the move," says the letter, which was sent via e-mail over the weekend and signed by Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the city's deputy mayor for health and human services.

The remains will be kept behind a wall at the museum, according to spokesman Michael Frazier.

The museum's website says the wall, which visitors will be able to view, is to be inscribed with a quote from the Roman poet Virgil: "No day shall erase you from the memory of time."

Though some family members of 9/11 victims see the move to the museum, at the site of the original World Trade Center, as a fitting final resting place for the remains, a large contingent continues to protest the move.

Sally Regenhard, a leading voice for families of victims who lost her son Christian in the 2001 attacks, has been protesting the placement of remains at the museum for several years. She calls the move "reckless."

"These are vulnerable, sacred remains," Regenhard said, pointing out that the lower Manhattan location is vulnerable to flooding. "We looked for our children after 9/11. Will we be having to be looking for these remains flowing into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel next?"

Lee Ielpi, who lost his son Jonathan on 9/11, said he appreciates that the transfer of the remains is being done privately and "in a dignified way, and it will reflect well to the world how our country treats our dead."

"I am pleased that there will be a solemn procession when the human remains are brought back to the place where they were murdered, which will likely be their last resting place," said Ielpi, whose son was a firefighter.

Ielpi is a member of the museum's board of directors.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has custody of 7,930 unidentified remains, which account for 36% of the 21,906 remains recovered, according to the office's most recent statistics.

Families of 9/11 victims will be able to visit the repository's Reflection Room in the five days before the official opening. After the museum opens, family members can schedule appointments to gain access to the private room.

The city's medical examiner will continue to have jurisdiction over the unidentified remains and will continue to work to identify them, according to the letter.

Regenhard said she and several other victims' family members plan to continue their opposition against housing the remains inside the museum's repository.

In 2011, 17 families of 9/11 victims filed a petition in court to force the museum to consult with the families before deciding what to do with the remains. They eventually asked for a congressional hearing. Both efforts were unsuccessful.

On its website, the museum said the decision to move the remains to the repository was made after receiving overwhelming feedback from families.

CNN's Laura Ly and Sho Wills contributed to this report.

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