WARWICK, N.Y. (AP) — After Joseph and Betty Ginley’s firefighter son was killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, they found some solace in the tall steel angels crafted as memorials by sculptor Lei Hennessy-Owen.
The Pennsylvania artist had been erecting them to commemorate tragedies including the 2001 terror attacks, a pipeline explosion in Washington and the friendly fire death of former NFL star Pat Tillman.
The Ginleys, of Warwick, were on hand in 2011 when Hennessy-Owen unveiled an angel honoring the youngest victim of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that injured then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
On Thursday, they helped dedicate another angel, this time to their granddaughter, killed in March in a car accident in Virginia.
“I never thought we’d get an angel for my granddaughter,” Joseph Ginley said. “I take some comfort in it.”
Christina Ginley’s death at age 18, on her way to a soccer tournament, was not a high-profile tragedy like the others. But her grandparents had befriended Hennessey-Owen over the years, and the artist was struck by their double loss.
“It was terrible for the Ginleys, losing Christina after losing their son,” Hennessy-Owen said before the dedication.
She said making an angel “was the only good thing I could think of. I thought it might give the Ginleys something to focus on after this awful thing.”
Hennessy-Owen, originally a painter and landscape artist, got into memorial sculptures in 1999, crafting an angel when two 10-year-old boys were killed in a pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Wash.
“I like to show angels rising out of wreckage,” said Hennessy-Owen, 55, who works in Somerset County, Pa. “People like the message.”
The angel she made for the World Trade Center attack was 30 feet tall.
When she made one as a memorial for Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old victim of the Tucson shootings, she invited the Ginleys to join the girl’s parents at the unveiling because they, too, had lost a child when John Ginley was killed in 2001.
The ceremony, at an Oro Valley, Ariz., park, was inspiring, Joseph Ginley said.
“That little girl was amazing, and the show of support for her was incredible,” he said.
For Thursday’s memorial ceremony in Warwick, a 90-minute drive north of New York City, the angel was decorated with roses and ribbons. A baking sun glinted off the dark grey sculpture as a priest blessed it with holy water.
Christina Ginley, John Ginley’s niece, had been active in charity fundraising at Warwick Valley High School, where she was a senior. Principal Richard Linkens said, “She was a selfless individual, always working to make the world around her better.” And her father, also named Joseph Ginley, said, “She was a perfect little girl, and people warned me, ‘Wait until she’s a teenager,’ and then she was a perfect teenager.”
Hennessy-Owen told the crowd of Christina’s friends and relatives that the angel, which has bits of World Trade Center steel in it and is 9 feet, 11 inches tall to commemorate the 9/11 attack, was a “healing angel.”
She said she tried to make “an angel that looked like she was comforting.”
She confided afterward that, “I am always dealing with tragedies as I make these angels, but this one was really hard.”
Eventually, the angel will be surrounded by a low stone wall bearing a plaque with an inscription Christina wrote for a time-capsule project, her grandfather said: “If I had all the time in the world I would travel and spend time with the people I love.”
“It’s almost like the angel is telling us,” the grandfather said, “that everything can be overcome, even when it seems like too much.”