Sixteen years after a senseless, shocking attack on America, the Killeen community still remembers and still stands strong.

In a gathering representing three cities with Fort Hood and Gold Star families and the students who represent our future, residents will once again celebrate freedom, remember a tragedy and honor our heroes.

The 12th annual Freedom Walk is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, the 16th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The event begins in the Killeen High School Auditorium and continues with a processional to adjacent Leo Buckley Stadium and a walk to celebrate freedom. It ends with Gold Star family members releasing balloons.

Killeen Police Department Chief Charles Kimble is set to speak, along with Killeen ISD Superintendent John Craft. Students from each of the school district’s four high schools will also participate.

Police units from Killeen, Harker Heights, Nolanville and Killeen ISD will join military personnel and other local officials.

In conjunction with the community event, schools throughout the district are scheduled to host walks and assemblies to remember the events of 9/11 and to honor America, its military and first responders.

During a walk at Union Grove Middle School in Harker Heights last year, eighth-grader Madi Kurz explained the reason to pause on Sept. 11.

“It’s to remember lives that were lost,” she said, “and to know we’re stronger when we’re together.” Referring to the uniformed soldiers on her campus that day, she said, “They are extremely brave. They make me feel safe.”

Killeen ISD Director of Community Relations Angenet Wilkerson called it an honor to host the annual gathering that shows multiple municipalities and Fort Hood standing in unity.

A school district, she said, serves to bind together the various communities where all can remember.

“We never get over the tragedy,” Wilkerson said, “but we do grow through it. Our unity is our strength. It makes us strong.”

The events of Monday’s walk honor multiple groups, she pointed out. While the walk began as a way to commemorate the emergency first responders who sacrificed that day and those who serve today, around here it’s also a time to honor the military.

“We commemorate those who sacrificed and our first responders who sacrifice daily,” she said. “We are unique because we serve The Great Place. We are so blessed to have Fort Hood as our neighbor. The Freedom Walk brings us all together.”

During last year’s event, Harker Heights Police Chief Michael Gentry pointed out the heroic efforts of everyday American civilians who came to the aid of those in danger.

New York tugboat and ferry drivers answered a radio distress call on Sept. 11, 2001, and helped evacuate 500,000 Americans in nine hours, Gentry said.

Even today’s students, too young to remember that day, know of its deep meaning.

“It’s a reminder of what happened,” said then-Killeen High School senior Jeremiah Belser, one of four KISD students carrying a banner around the Buckley Stadium track a year ago. “As Americans we have that right, to remember who we are.”

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