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One by one, the victims’ names were read aloud as a circle of the grieving families they left behind swelled. On the date and on the site where 2,801 people were killed in an unfathomable terrorist attack one year ago, their loved ones gathered to mourn something they didn’t need an anniversary to remember.
“Again today, we are a nation that mourns,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg to introduce a moment of silence observed nationwide Wednesday at 8:46 a.m., the moment an airliner hijacked by terrorists was purposely flown into the World Trade Center’s north tower, turning a gorgeous late summer day in New York City into an infamous date of horror.
“Again today,” the mayor continued, “we take into our hearts and minds those who perished on this site one year ago, and also those who came to toil in the rubble to bring order out of chaos and those who throughout these 12 months have struggled to help us make sense of our despair.”
After Governor George Pataki recited the Gettysburg Address, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani started reading the names of the dead and missing. As dozens of other local leaders continued the list over a background of soft music, relatives of each victim, most for the first time, descended the ramp into the physical emptiness that many of them, without any remains to bury, consider their loved ones’ final resting place.
They slowly filled in the ring of uniformed officers standing at attention, each placing a rose in a small circle in the middle. The flowers will later be collected to be included in the permanent memorial that will eventually be erected on the site.
Most were stoic and some of the family members embraced, while others fell to their knees in tears when the grief panged too strong to conceal. Photographs of the victims — which a year ago were posted around the city in the desperate hope to find the missing — were held aloft once again by many family members for the television cameras, and all the nation, to see.
The reading paused at 9:03 a.m., the time the second airliner struck 2 World Trade Center.
“I would give anything to go back to the morning of September 11 and tell him how much I appreciate everything he’s done for me,” said Marianne Keane, reading a letter she wrote for a memorial for her stepfather, Frank Lalama, an engineer for the Port Authority who was on the 64th floor when the south tower was hit. “But I think he knows that now. In my eyes, he has died a hero, and how much more could you ask for?”
The recitation of victims' names halted again at 9:59 a.m., the time the south tower lost its strength and crumbled to the ground. Eleven-year-old Brittany Clark, whose father, Benjamin, died in the collapse, read a poem.
“When you awaken in morning’s hush, / I am the swift, uplifting rush / of quiet birds in circled flight,” she read. “I am the soft stars that shine at night / Do not think of me as gone; / I am with you still in each new dawn.”
A bell rang at 10:29 a.m. to mark the collapse of the north tower, as the rest of the victims’ names continued to be read an hour past the planned ending time. After the playing of “Taps,” the three-hour ceremony concluded with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevy.
Though the focus was on the World Trade Center site, observances took place concurrently at firehouses and police stations around the city, with a host of other tributes throughout the day.