Stone honoring New London girl killed in 9-11 attacks rededicated
New London — It was Sept. 10, 2001, teacher Kristin Custodio said, when 4-year-old Juliana McCourt brought her the biggest praying mantis she had ever seen.
“She just came trudging in with this bug box, with this big huge smile on, telling me to come look at what she had brought,” Custodio said Sunday, while recounting memories of the girl who would be killed the next day in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks along with her mother, Ruth.
Both lived in New London and were headed on a trip to Disneyland. The two died aboard the United Airlines jetliner that crashed into the World Trade Center’s south tower — news that would break the hearts of thousands throughout the community and news that still resonates 17 years later.
“She was just so excited about this thing. She was so in love with nature, and that’s how we remember her. She even had these little ladybug rain boots she would wear every day,” Custodio said. “The fact that we are remembering her here, in this garden, is very fitting."
Custodio was among the former preschool teachers and classmates of Juliana, who recounted stories of the girl while gathering Sunday afternoon for a re-dedication ceremony of a memorial stone honoring Juliana at the McCourt Sept. 11 Garden at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.
The stone, which had originally been installed in 2002 in front of the former Children’s Learning Center at Mitchell College where Juliana had attended pre-school, was relocated Sunday to the garden at the Lyman Allyn.
And it was here, among the garden’s rolling hills and twisting willow trees, that former New London Deputy Police Chief Marshall "Chip" Segar, who oversaw the stone’s relocation, explained to the small crowd his long relationship with the memorial and with the McCourt family.
He recounted the day he met the McCourts at a preschool orientation for their daughters, both of whom were placed in the same class together.
“I remember they just stuck out because they were just stunning,” Segar’s wife, Dawn, said.
“Ruth was just beautiful and David (Juliana’s father) was always dressed to the nines,” Segar continued. “And there we were, in sweatpants and jeans, blue collar joe and blue collar jane, sitting on these little chairs with Ruth and Dave.”
Segar also told of how after the attacks, he was inspired, with the help of the city's police and fire departments, to create a stone memorializing Juliana. It was placed under a dogwood tree, he said, in a fenced-in “children’s play” courtyard next to the preschool, and it’s where he and his wife would go periodically to lay flowers.
But it was two years ago, on the night of Sept. 11, that he and his wife realized the stone had been moved, and the beautiful tree the stone had been laid under was cut down.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I knew we had to do something.”
Moving forward, Segar found out the stone had been moved to another part of campus and that Mitchell College was remorseful for the change. But with a constant turnaround of students coming and going, Segar wasn’t convinced that Juliana’s memory would live on at the college in the way it was originally intended.
“It was unsettling for us because there was meaning in having it at the Mitchell College Learning Center, but the timeliness of the meaning had evaporated,” he said. “… So we decided we would find a proper location for the stone.”
With the help of Dede Delaney, who helps oversee the memorial garden, and those at the Lyman Allyn, Segar and his wife located that perfect spot — a spot under a Redbud tree “where in the spring, the tree blooms a vibrant pink,” he said.
“It’s really a weight off our shoulders,” Segar said, after two New London police officers in dress uniforms carefully laid the stone in its new spot. “It’s where it’s meant to be.”
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