Two blue lights pierced the sky Thursday night, a final, silent ceremony after a day filled with prayers and tears to mark the seventh anniversary of terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.
The city's observance followed a routine similar to previous years' observances, with the main feature being the over three-hour-long reading of the names of the 2,751 victims of the World Trade Center attack.
Much of the subdued, yet emotional, event took place for the second year at Zuccotti Park, near the former site of the World Trade Center. This may be the last year the ceremony is held by the reflecting pool in the WTC site, due to construction of the Freedom Tower.
After the Young People's Chorus of New York sang the "Star Spangled Banner," firefighters and police officers carried off the tattered American flag that flew over the site in the days after the attack. Many who worked for hours on the recovery effort said the flag had come to symbolize loss and resilience.
The first moment of silence was held at 8:46 a.m. to mark the moment of impact on the North Tower.
Additional moments of silence were held at 9:03 a.m. to mark the moment of impact on the South Tower and at 9:59 and 10:29 a.m. to mark the times the two Towers collapsed.
Family members and student representatives from the 92 countries that lost citizens in the attacks read the victims' names.
Three New Jersey children who lost their father, John Patrick Salamone, in the WTC attack were the first relatives to speak at the ceremony.
“For our dad, we hope to make a difference in the world one day. He would be so proud of that,” said Aidan Salamone, the younger son of John Salamone. “My dad died on 9/11, but he is not gone. Just look at each of our faces and you will see him shine through us every day.”
Salamone was a broker for Cantor Fitzgerald and worked in the North Tower.
Among the names read was Dr. Sneha A. Philips, whose name was restored to the victims' list this year. She disappeared on September 10, 2001 and a city appeals court ruled that it is plausible that she died helping other victims of the attacks.
After descending into the WTC site to pay their respects, loved ones of victims reflected on their losses and how they've been dealing with them as the years pass.
"It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago when you were taken so suddenly,"said Katherine Hernandez, who lost her niece in the attacks.
"It gets worse every year, but it's something I vow to do every year until I can't do it anymore. I'll be here every year," said Pat Hawley, who lost his sister on 9/11.
"My girls are getting older they are asking a lot more questions,” said Elaine Lyons, who lost her husband on 9/11. “I was pregnant with my younger at the time, so every year it gets a little harder."
After the last two moments of silence, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Governor George Pataki shared brief condolences.
“For seven years, we've come back here to be together, to feel how the entire world is linked in our circle of sorrow and mostly to remember, those we've loved, who were never lost," said Giuliani.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor David Paterson and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine expanded their messages with quotes by world writers about love and grieving.
“We come each year to stand alongside those who loved and lost the most. To be witness to a day that began like any other and ended as none ever has,” said Bloomberg.
Across the street from the WTC site, a "Bell of Hope" tolled at a ceremony in St. Paul's Church. The bell was a gift to the city from London on the first anniversary of the attacks.
The chapel escaped major damage from the attack and for eight months afterwards acted as the center of the volunteer relief effort.
Today, recovery workers, family members, volunteers and parishioners gathered at St. Paul's for a special service to pray for peace and healing.
At the 13th Police Precinct in Gramercy Park, members of the NYPD gathered to remember their brethren killed in the attacks.
"We miss them dearly," said retired New York City Fire Marshal Bill Kregler. "And, like I said, it's a void that, the wound may heal, but the scar will always be there."
Officers stood at attention for roll call as the names of the 23 police officers who died on September 11th were read out loud. Two of the fallen officers worked at the 13th Precinct.
"It was an attack on our country, but also the city in particular,” said 13th Precinct Commanding Officer Timothy Beaudette. “Today is, just like I said, just a day to honor the memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice."
"It's a very emotional time, it feels like it was just a year or two ago,” said Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association. “And we plan to be here every 9/11 for the rest of our lives. We feel very, very close and grateful to these men and women."
The Port Authority also held its annual interfaith memorial service in downtown Manhattan. Bloomberg, Paterson, and Corzine spoke at St. Peter's Church, just blocks from the site.
"We will continue to honor those who lost their lives those of the families who lost their lives and those who continue to be injured or suffering as a result of that attack," said Paterson.
The WTC attack killed 84 Port Authority employees; another six died in the 1993 WTC bombing.
Throughout the day in Battery Park, New Yorkers had the chance to leave tribute messages on one of the beams that will be used to construct the memorial at the site.
At sundown, the twin beams known as the "Tribute in Light" began to once again illuminate the skies of Lower Manhattan until dawn on Friday.
Meanwhile, both presidential candidates were in the city today, where they joined Bloomberg to pay silent respects together at the World Trade Center site Thursday evening.
The two senators then attended the ServiceNation Forum at Columbia University, where they spoke about civic engagement.
In Virginia, a memorial to the 184 people who died at the Pentagon and American Flight 77 was dedicated Thursday morning.
President George W. Bush presided over the opening of the memorial in Arlington. It features 184 benches, each bearing the name of one of the victims.
"Our thoughts return to this place," said the president. "Here we remember those who died. And here on this solemn anniversary, we dedicate a memorial that will enshrine their memory for all time."
The president also observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. at the White House, alongside First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, cabinet members and other government officials.
Also in Washington, congressional leaders put aside party politics to honor 9/11.
Members gathered on the steps of the Capitol for a ceremony Thursday, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stressed the importance of never forgetting.
"So on this anniversary, and all those that will follow, we must never forget all the innocent lives we lost or the burden we bear for the freedom we cherish," he said.
Bells tolled 40 times in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground.
It's believed both passengers and crew aboard died shortly after rushing hijackers in the cockpit.
Among those on hand to pay tribute to the victims was Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
"I've had the great honor and privilege to witness great courage and sacrifice for America's sake but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives," said McCain.
As the city remembers the attacks, the city's Department of Health says more than 70,000 residents have reported developing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the attacks.
The estimate is based on an analysis of those enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry.
The DOH says more than 400,000 people were heavily exposed to the disaster and that more than 12,000 may have developed asthma after being exposed to dust from the collapse of the towers.