Flight 93 chapel

Josh Kunala (left) and Sean Nolan, both of Pittsburgh, carry a wreath toward a granite memorial honoring the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 outside the Flight 93 chapel in Shanksville on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.

SHANKSVILLE – Barbara Long lives just a few miles west of the Flight 93 National Memorial – where a crowd of thousands greeted dignitaries, including President Donald Trump and two Pennsylvania governors, Tuesday morning.

But the Stoystown woman took a different path to honor those lost in Flight 93's crash 17 years ago, instead following rural Stutzmantown Road to a tiny countryside chapel.

"You come here – and God is very present," she said, as the sound of a Pittsburgh children's choir echoed behind her. "This is where I wanted to be."

A crowd of nearly 100 joined her at the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel, where a line of teenagers rang its towering "thunder bell" to honor the 40 passengers and crew members who died 17 years ago.

It was part of a morning-long ceremony and service filled with hopeful stories, solemn tributes and songs.

"We're here to commemorate those lives who were here on the mountain and here with us today," said Archbishop Ramzi Musallam, describing the passengers and crew as both heroes and "angels" among us.

He told a standing room-only crowd of 60 inside the chapel that even in the world's most trying times – such as the dark morning of 9/11 – the legacy of selflessness serves as a lasting reminder of the power of faith.

"And regardless of the evil today ... we have to continue to call upon God," Musallam said.

Sunday's event opened with the sound of area musician Duane Mohney's bagpipes.

Two teenagers from the Pittsburgh-based performing arts nonprofit North Star Kids placed a patriotic wreath near a granite monument that honors Flight 93's crew alongside the chapel. While heads bowed, Musallam led the group in prayer.

Then, the sound of silence was interrupted by the choir's harmonies.

"We are standing on holy ground," the chorus of more than 20 sang. "And I know there are angels all around."

Long described the scene as "moving" and personal.

She said she'll never forget working at Altoona Hospital on Sept. 11, 2001 – when staff were alerted that United Flight 93 had fallen from the sky. She was in the operating room that day.

Scheduled surgical operations were cancelled, while employees waited for the possibility that crash survivors might be brought in for emergency care, Long said.

As it would turn out, all 40 people, including a pregnant passenger and several crew members, did not survive.

The nation was soon told that many of those on board made a plan to overtake the plane and then acted, working to force their way into the cockpit – and compelling the Al Qaeda terrorists at the helm to crash United 93 into a Shanksville-area strip mine.

To Dave Judy of Greensburg, the story of what the heroic men and women did aboard the plane is one that deserves to be told.

"And this is their chapel," he said, standing outside the small building, wearing a T-shirt that read "USA Proud."

The chapel itself serves as both a memorial site and a museum.

Originally founded by the late Father Alfonse Mascherino, who led the effort to turn a shabby, vacant building that was previously used to store seeds into a colorful non-denominational worship house and landmark.

Today, 9/11 artifacts – including a three-inch-long piece of the plane, letters written by Flight 93 passengers and flags – decorate its walls.

A statue of an angel sits in one corner in honor of crash victim Lauren Grandcolas' unborn child – "the 41st victim," Musallam said.

"This (chapel) is here because one man, Father Alfonse Mascherino ... felt a calling. And wanted to bring peace and comfort to people in mourning after 9/11," said Carol Love of Youngwood-based tour organizer Love Receptive Services.

"Hopefully," added Long, "it will always be here."

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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