HARTFORD, Conn. — A memorial to honor a Sept. 11 victim from a small northwestern Connecticut town has been halted by the unexpected conflict arising from his father's insistence it say his son was murdered by "Muslim terrorists."
Town officials in Kent are balking, saying it would be inappropriate to single out a religious group in a project on town property and paid for with taxpayers' money. The memorial plaque to be erected outside the town hall is on indefinite hold.
Peter Gadiel is criticizing town leaders for being too politically correct, and says he's frustrated about what he calls a growing trend across the country to soften the reality of the Sept. 11 attacks by not mentioning a word about terrorism on victims' memorials.
"Ordinarily I would not want a reference to his murder on his memorial, but there seems to be an effort to whitewash what happened that day," said Gadiel, a 61-year-old retired real estate investor.
"I don't think it's right that people should be murdered like that, and that people intentionally forget what happened. It's wrong. It's immoral."
Gadiel's 23-year-old son, James Gadiel, was working for the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage firm when he was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center by jetliners that flew into the twin towers.
'Just insensitive,' official says
Town leaders agree that Muslim terrorists were responsible for the attacks, but they insist that saying it on a public memorial plaque would be wrong. They say many local residents support their position, while most of the criticism is coming from outsiders.
"We're a very welcoming, caring community," said outgoing First Selectwoman Ruth Epstein, who did not seek re-election this year. "To disparage a particular religious group would not be appropriate. There are things that are just insensitive and we feel we don't want here."
Epstein said the town has received about 150 e-mails and numerous phone calls on the issue. She said many of them supporting Gadiel were obscene, vile and threatening, including one from a person who hoped Epstein and her family were killed by terrorists.
Epstein thinks the controversy is unfortunate, but she said Gadiel's proposed wording is just too harsh.
"James was a lovely young man," she said. "Something that would memorialize him rather than focus on the horror of that time would be so much better."
The flare-up gained traction last week when Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly talked about it on "The O'Reilly Factor."
"He wants to tell the truth on his son's memorial and I'm behind him," O'Reilly said on the show. "Let's get the memorial up. We'll march into Kent, Connecticut. We'll all go up there and tell the guys to put it up."
"And if we have to charter a bus and go up there, we may have to do that," he added.
Kent, home to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, is a rural town of about 3,000 people tucked into the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the New York state border, about 90 miles north of New York City.
'Kind of insane,' dad says
It's where James Gadiel grew up before heading off to Washington and Lee University in Virginia and landing the job with Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the trade center's north tower.
Peter Gadiel now volunteers for 9/11 Families for a Secure America Foundation, a group of Sept. 11 victims' families that says its goal is to educate Americans about the threats of open borders and illegal immigration.
He says he's not backing down from his fight against the town and won't let the memorial go up without the wording he wants.
"To not acknowledge that he was murdered is kind of insane," Gadiel said. "I'm not going to collaborate on a memorial that will dishonor my son in that fashion."
Bruce Adams, a town board member who was elected first selectman on Tuesday, said he's not sure when the panel will take up the matter again. He agrees with Epstein.
"His son was murdered by Muslim terrorists but we can't put that on a memorial on town property," said Adams, a retired high school history teacher who had James Gadiel as a student. "It's the use of a word that picks on a group of people for the deeds of some."
Asked whether town officials were being too politically correct, Adams said, "I don't like that term. If that's what you want to call it, then maybe we are."
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