They prayed. They cried. They bore witness. For the first time, they were able to run their fingers along the bronze panels inscribed with the names of loved ones who perished in the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
The 10th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, a cataclysm that forever changed their lives and the nation's, was a day roiled with waves of emotion grounded in remembrance, loss and celebrations of life. Its most heart-rending scenes came in the footprints of the Twin Towers where the National September 11 Memorial opened.
Children who never saw their parents or lost them when they were very young were among the readers of the names of the dead.
"I'm proud to be your daughter," said Patricia Smith, now 12, whose police officer mother, Moira Smith, died helping people flee the trade center. "You will always be a hero and the pride of New York City."
Two immense reflecting pools, each flanked on four sides by waterfalls, dominate the memorial. The pools sit within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. On a metal parapet surrounding the pools are the panels with the names of the dead -- more than a third of whose remains were never found.
Tears flowed as mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters made rubbings with pencils and crayons and left mementos -- flags, flowers, personal notes.
Touching his name
The family of Glenroy Neblett, a Queens man who worked at Marsh & McLennan and was killed in the north tower, took turns touching his name.
"It's personal now," his sister Leslieann Williams said. "He has a place. He has found a home."
The acts of once unimaginable violence on a bright September morning in 2001 killed nearly 3,000 people. America felt vulnerable and its future seemed uncertain.
"It has been 10 years and it feels like it just happened yesterday," said Debra Epps of Selden in a reading of tribute to her brother Christopher, a resident of the Bronx who worked for Marsh & McLennan.
The ceremony, which took place inside heavy rings of security, was the centerpiece of the day. Relatives and friends of the victims began to gather before the sun rose. They hugged, wiped away tears and smiled up at the new 1 World Trade Center tower rising above them.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the morning's first moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the north tower was struck by a hijacked airliner. Across the city, houses of worship tolled their bells. It was the first of six such moments of silence during the ceremony, which lasted almost five hours.
Letter written by Lincoln
Bush read from a letter Abraham Lincoln sent to a Civil War widow who'd lost five sons in battle: "I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost."
In voices sometimes stoic, sometimes choked with pain, the names of the victims were read. There were 2,983 in all, nearly 500 of them from Long Island. They included the Sept. 11, 2001, victims of the attacks on the Pentagon and United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa., as passengers tried to overpower the hijackers, as well as the six dead in the first trade center bombing in 1993.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the memorial opened to the waiting families, who streamed in and began searching.
"I found his name and it brought tears to my eyes," said retired NYPD Capt. Anthony Ottomano, whose nephew Michael Stabile was killed in the trade center attack. "I felt like I had a real connection."
Ret. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alicia Watkins was in the Pentagon when it was struck. She'd traveled to New York to pay tribute to her friend Tamara Thurman, an Army officer killed in that attack. In her dress blue Air Force uniform, Watkins used a purple crayon to make a rubbing of Thurman's name. She placed a Purple Heart over the name and snapped a photo.
"I've had such survivor's guilt because she died that day and I didn't," Watkins said through tears. "She was an incredible woman. I had to be here to see where she'll be remembered forever."
Tribute to soldiers
"Never before in our history has America asked so much over such a sustained period of an all-volunteer force," he said.
A crowd of 5,000 gathered for a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville. The president and first lady Michelle Obama traveled to Shanksville after their visit to New York and placed a wreath at the memorial.
"A decade ago, it seemed the side of darkness had conquered," Dolan said, noting that time has proved that "the side of angels, not demons" has prevailed.
Hundreds of firefighters from around the world stood solemnly at the Firemen's Memorial on Manhattan's Upper West Side as the names of their fallen comrades were read aloud.
Then a woman sang "Amazing Grace." She paused midway through, choking back tears. The crowd broke into applause, urging her on. Strengthened, she finished the song.
"Ten years -- sometimes it seems like yesterday and sometimes it seems like 100 years ago," said Nick Visconti, a retired FDNY deputy chief as his eyes moistened.