There are some days we can never forget. There are some days we never should forget. August 1, 2007 is both.
It was one of the hardest days in the history of Minneapolis. Thirteen people died suddenly, without warning, for no reason other than they were driving across a bridge that never should have collapsed. They didn’t all live in Minneapolis, but they were Minneapolis: people of every background who were working hard to raise their families, make a contribution to others, and do right in the world.
They were loved by those around them, and are still loved: by their sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, neighbors, and friends, and by our city. The lives of those that loved, and love them have been altered forever.
One hundred forty-five people were injured, just as suddenly, without warning, for no reason other than they were driving across a bridge that never should have collapsed. Fifty-two of them were children on a school bus returning home from a field trip. To this day, they are still loved and supported: by their sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, neighbors, and friends, and by our city. To this day, the life of every survivor has been altered forever.
I think of them often. A photo of the new bridge hangs right outside my office; I look at it every day and am reminded of the people we lost 10 years ago. Every time that I cross over the new bridge, I say a prayer for all of them, from wave to wave.
When I think of them, I also think without fail of those who responded—quickly, selflessly, with no thought to the danger they faced themselves, with only the thought of saving others. As we remember what happened 10 years ago, we cannot forget to honor the bravery of the countless hundreds who responded.
We’ve installed a piece of the old 35W bridge at the facility where we train our first responders—a permanent reminder of their willingness to risk their own lives to save the lives of others, on that day in 2007, and every day. We asked much of them on August 1, 2007: to run into danger and do whatever they could to save people—and they did. We ask much of them every day, still: to enter into the unknown with professionalism and presence, to be there for people when they are having some of the worst moments of their lives—and they do. As a result, many people in Minneapolis are still with us, and many families and friendships are still intact today.
But on that day 10 years ago in particular, their bravery was an example of our city at its best, even during one of our worst moments. As a city and a people, we say: thank you.
Memory is a selective thing. For myself, a City Council Member at the time who worked closely with state and federal officials, I remember becoming intimately familiar with the wreckage, the names and stories of those who died and were injured, how the lives of their loved ones were altered, and how our brave men and women, our first responders, took fearless action. But remembering isn’t a given—it can fade, particularly when the memories are painful.
Today, we get to commit ourselves to remembering.
We get to remember our first responders from every department — including those in all the agencies that supported Minneapolis that day and in the weeks that followed.
We get to remember the people those who helped lead us through that terrible crisis, including Mayor Rybak and the inspiring leadership he offered.
We get to remember those who survived, and those who lost loved ones, and to honor the memories they carry with them. Some of them have kept their own pieces of the bridge to help focus those memories. We respect and recognize their paths to healing, even as they walk those paths still today.
We get to remember the 13 who died. We miss them every day. Our city is forever changed without them.
Ten years to the day after one of our city’s most terrible and tragic moments, we get to commit to remembering. And in remembering we can also look forward, firm in our responsibility to learn from what happened 10 years ago, so that, God willing, it never happens again.
I delivered a version of these remarks at an event dedicating a new installation of a remnant of the old 35W bridge at the Minneapolis Emergency Operations and Training Center on August 1, 2017.