From atop “Merrick Mountain” at the Norman J. Levy Preserve, Howard Knepple saw a harrowing sight on Sept. 11, 2001: A billow of smoke enveloping the sky above New York City after a second plane collided into the World Trade Center. Days later, smoke could still be seen rising from the ashes, he said.
Knepple, 56, a Merrick resident who has a hobby for nature photography, captured a staggering glimpse of the moment from the Merrick vantage point 19 years ago. Every year, he shares the striking photograph on social media contrasted with shots from before and after the Twin Towers collapsed.
In an interview with the Herald life, Knepple reflected on the unforgettable day. “I remember feeling a lot of anger; a lot of shock,” he said. “Once the second plane hit, we knew it was no accident.”
Knepple was asleep when the first plane hit and recalled waking up to the climactic news. He knew the highest point of the preserve — popularly known as “Merrick Mountain” — allows a sweeping view of Manhattan. When he reached the top, he could see the cloud of smoke reaching all the way to the ocean.
After taking the photo, Knepple grabbed a single red rose that he happened to have in his car that day and left it at a sign pointing towards the city. This inadvertently became a tribute spot — when he returned, dozens of visitors had also left flowers in the same place.
Hundreds in Merrick attended candlelit vigils over the following days. Three of Knepple’s cousins, who were firefighters in New York City, were off duty on the day of the attacks but assisted at Ground Zero. He is not aware if they have suffered from resulting health complications, he said.
With the same Olympus camera, Knepple snapped a picture of the aftermath five days later — the iconic towers absent from the grey sky.
As September approaches every year, Knepple re-shares the photos with fellow residents on social media, and the same emotions return. “It’s just a sad time when those [photographs] were taken,” he said. “Whenever I go back up there and I look at the sky, I’m thinking about 9/11 and those towers.”
Knepple’s photos — before, during and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — offer a stark reminder of what was lost that day.
“We can never forget this,” he said. “It’s got to be something we remember and keep preventing in the future.”