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Hundreds turn out to dedication of 35W bridge memorial

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Feeling the water
A young attendee of the 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden dedication and opening ceremony feels the waters fall over an inscribed granite wall in Minneapolis, Minn. Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. The wall is inscribed with the names of survivors of the bridge collapse and the words, "Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events."
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Hundreds of people turned out in downtown Minneapolis Monday for the dedication of a remembrance garden, in memorial of the 35W bridge victims and survivors.

The memorial overlooks the spot on the Mississippi River where the 35W bridge collapsed in 2007. Public officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton, spoke. Many other speakers were family and friends of those who died.

Family and friends of the 13 victims and the 145 survivors watched from a reserved area in front as a color guard took their places. The day's rain had ended just in time for the late afternoon event near Gold Medal Park.

Dozens of law enforcement officers, fire fighters and other first responders, some of whom had raced to the scene of the collapsed bridge four years ago stood nearby.

The memorial to the victims and survivors of the 35W bridge collapse sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis next to Gold Medal Park.

The 13 who died are remembered with 13 steel girders. Survivors of the bridge collapse are part of the remembrance garden, with their names are etched into a black stone wall that streams water down its face.

Gov. Dayton expressed his sorrow for the loss of life and injuries on Aug. 1, 2007. Flags around the state were flown at half staff in remembrance.

"Our hearts goes out to you the survivors, those of you who were injured, those of you lost your loved ones forever," Dayton said. "There's nothing we can do to bring them back, but this memorial is a fitting tribute to them. And we always as we go by remember — remember your loss and theirs."

Then, friends and family member's spoke.

Bradley Blackhawk remembered his niece, a mother of three and a member of the Winnebago nation.

"Julia Blackhawk. She went by many names.  Thunder Woman... Julia Ann Blackhawk."

A memorial statement by the family of Patrick Holmes, also a husband and father, was kept short because that is how he would have wanted it, said his father, Mark Holmes.

"He is remembered. He is thought of every day. I can't go over that bridge without a saddening," Holms said. "But my reading is going to be short and to the point just like Pat. Forever remembered, forever missed, we love you. Thanks for the ride."

Ron Engebretsen recalled his wife Sherry Engebretsen was proud of her Irish heritage. In a voice filled with emotion, he recalled the words of an Irish blessing to sum up how she viewed life.

"May the winds be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of his hand. God bless her memory," Engebretsen said.

The ceremony ended with a hymn, a moment of silence and the release of doves at 6:05 p.m., the moment of the bridge collapse four years ago.

Family members hugged, some weeping, others smiling and laughing.

After the ceremony, Blackhawk said the thunder from the storms earlier in the day was his niece Julia giving them her blessing. The ceremony was a fitting end to a four-year long journey through grief, he said.

"Her journey's complete, you know, that's what we believe... she doesn't have a need or a want for anything, and she's all right, then we're OK, too," Blackhawk said. "The grieving process has taken its course, and we're going to move on.  It's going to be all right."