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15 Years Later, 'Paramus Freedom Walk' Reflects On 9/11

Paramus Freedom Walk members from left (2009): Victoria Petruzella, Joe Rizzolo, Matt Kaplan, Richard LaBarbiera Jr. and Vincent LaBarbiera.
Paramus Freedom Walk members from left (2009): Victoria Petruzella, Joe Rizzolo, Matt Kaplan, Richard LaBarbiera Jr. and Vincent LaBarbiera. Photo Credit: Joe Rizzolo

PARAMUS, N.J. — The day he had the cast on his broken arm removed should've been a happy one for Paramus native Joe Rizzolo.

Marred by what he saw on the news that fateful morning, the drive to the doctor's office with his mother was rather somber for the then-6-year-old Ridge Ranch Elementary School student.

Rizzolo's arm eventually healed, but his his heart has yet to.

Six years after the attacks, he and a group of students launched the Paramus Freedom Walk — inspired by the one in Washington, D.C. — with help from Operation Goody Bag Founder and teacher Jane Cosco and borough officials.

“The one thing that stuck with me the most was watching the news cast and seeing first responders enter the buildings,” said Rizzolo, 21. “Then the buildings came down a few moments later.”

After a brief hiatus, the Paramus Freedom Walk members — now pursuing professional careers — will reunite for a 15th anniversary event.

It will begin at the Paramus Band Shell behind the library with registration at 7 p.m., followed by a candlelight walk at 7:30 p.m.

The walk honors the seven Paramus residents who died in the 9/11 attacks, along with the veterans, first responders and everyone in Paramus who fought for freedom.

Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera remembers when the members -- including two of his children -- first brought the event to the borough.

"Roll back the clock 12 years and these kids were in elementary and middle school," the mayor said.

"It has been a pleasure to watch these kids grow up through the years and do such an adult type thing," he said. "God bless them for their perseverance."

This year's Paramus Freedom Walk members are:

  • Joe Rizzolo
  • Matt Kaplan
  • Richard LaBarbiera, Jr.
  • Vincent LaBarbiera
  • Victoria Petruzzella
  • Gabriella Rizzolo

Paramus Deputy Police Chief Rob Guidetti is grateful that the group continues to honor the 7 city victims, first responders and military personnel.

"They are out there sacrificing their lives for our freedom," Guidetti said. "Events like this one keep Paramus' hometown feeling very much alive."

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