Why I Took a Selfie at 9/11 Memorial: One Teen's Story

Teen addresses the controversy.

— -- A teen who snapped a smiling selfie in front of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York says he did so to remember an important milestone -- not out of disrespect.

"It's a very emotional place, obviously," Chris Canning, 18, told ABC News of the controversial snapshot. "This was my first time in New York City, I wanted to capture a special moment. My family is still in Florida, I wanted to send them a photo like, 'Look where I am.'"

But critics have been quick recently to dismiss the photos taken in front of places like the 9/11 memorial, the Auschwitz concentration camp, at funerals or, in the case of Justin Bieber, at the Anne Frank House, as callous and bad-mannered.

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But Canning wants the world to know the real reason he took a selfie in front of the memorial in downtown Manhattan.

"Here's how I see it -- I remember 9/11, I remember exactly where I was," he said. "I was in kindergarten at the time."

Canning, who is from Florida, remembers being called out of class shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001 and asked to salute a camera a few times. He was too young to understand exactly what was happening -- both on the news and in front of the camera -- until his salute later appeared at the end of a memorial video played on his school's news channel.

It was a significant moment, Canning remembers, when he finally understood the gravity of the terror attacks.

"I felt like, 'Wow, they picked me for that very special moment,'" he said.

So his selfie, posted on Twitter on July 10, wasn't meant to trivialize what happened when nearly 3,000 people died thirteen years ago, he said. It was a personal photo so he could remember the story, and remember his visit to the memorial.

"It's a touching place with such history and memory ... you feel all these emotions there. You feel sorry for the people that were lost in the towers and the lives lost trying to save the people there, protecting the city," Canning said. "We created the two biggest man-made waterfalls for such remembrance. We built a great memorial, I believe."

He added that some of the selfie criticism is unfair. After all, a selfie is just a photo you take of yourself, right?

"Who's to say that I wasn't there alone? Or that I was just too shy to ask someone to take a photo?" he said.

But in the end, he took the photo because he wanted to.

"I don't want a picture of just a memorial, I want a picture of myself and the memorial," he said. "I wasn't taking a selfie out of disrespect."

The 9/11 Memorial Museum says all photography -- including selfies -- is fine.