NEW YORK — The official procession moved slowly through Manhattan early Saturday. It carried the remains of more than 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, whose resting place will be back at ground zero.
The decision to shift the thousands of bags of pulverized bone and other remains back to the place where the victims died closes, at least for now, a wrenching debate arising from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers: how to handle fragments of humanity found there but never positively linked to individual victims.
About a dozen 9/11 family members staged a protest as the three flag-draped containers were moved into a repository at ground zero, in the same building as the 9/11 Memorial Museum scheduled to open May 21.
"A museum is not a cemetery," read one sign.
Until Saturday, the more than 7,900 little bags of remains had been housed at the office of the city's chief medical examiner. There, forensic experts have been working to identify the remains.
But 41 percent of the World Trade Center's 2,753 victims have not been tied to any remains.
City officials say the effort to identify victims will continue, but the remains will be housed on "sacred ground," 70 feet underground, adjacent to the museum.
"It's respectful," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said of the move, which was decided by his predecessor in conjunction with some 9/11 families and other officials.
Many object to the placement of remains so far below ground, saying the area is subject to flooding.
"We thought there would be some sort of tomb or memorial put there," said Eileen Walsh, whose son, Michael Brennan, was a firefighter killed on 9/11.