Not long after sunrise Wednesday, James Sherry walked up to the 18-foot-tall replicas of the Twin Towers and penned a message to his father, a bond broker killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks when James was 4 years old.
"I love you so much," the 16-year-old high school junior from Rockville Centre wrote to his dad, John Anthony Sherry, who was 34 when he died.
James, his 14-year-old brother, Johnny, their mother, Missy, and other family members were among more than 1,000 people who gathered on the beach at Point Lookout just after dawn to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the worst terrorist act committed on U.S. soil.
People also paid tribute in other places across Long Island, mourning and reflecting in their own homes or at public events from sunrise through sunset.
Firefighters, religious leaders, the young and the old who arrived with walkers and wheelchairs, came to pay tribute at the Point Lookout event.
"You will always be with us," Scott Bart's mom and dad wrote in a handwritten message for him.
"We love you always," wrote Stephen Kevin Tompsett's wife, Dorry, and daughter, Emily. "We miss you every moment of every day."
The sentiment was the same in Wantagh, where people gathered at American Legion Post 1273 on Park Avenue.
In Commack, as many as 600 people gathered on an athletic field for an evening that was supposed to be illuminated by candlelight -- but the winds were too strong.
Still, people flocked to the 7-foot-tall model of the Twin Towers lit up in red white and blue.
"It's really something to come out with so many and reflect," said Sharon Chosak of Commack, who said she knew as many as 10 people who were killed that fateful day.
Janlyn Scauso of Melville was a 39-year-old mother of four when she lost her husband, a hazardous materials firefighter.
"You have people who come into your life and contribute but you can't replace people," she said.
For most people, the observances were an annual ritual of healing.
"I come here every year to bury my husband," said Wantagh resident Philomena Mistrulli, 54, after the 10 a.m. event.
She had stood quietly throughout the 20-minute gathering, thinking of Joseph, 46, a carpenter, who died when a plane struck the first World Trade Center tower. "I don't think we have coped yet, and it's been 12 years."
Most years, James Sherry and his family have come to Point Lookout on Sept. 11 to remember his dad, whom he got to know over time thanks to the stories and memories others shared with him. The family was at the former World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan on the fifth and 10th anniversaries of the attacks.
"I really try not to get sad," James said. "It's not going to bring him back."
Andree Marshall of Island Park, who survived the 1993 and the 2001 attacks, said those events taught her to value the ordinary and fleeting moments in her life, such as seeing her daughter's eyes light up when she plays with her dog, and savoring times when her son steals a kiss.
"Had I not been able to get past tragedy, I would not be able to see beauty that permeates my life," said Marshall, one of the keynote speakers at Wednesday's remembrance in Point Lookout.
At the ceremony's conclusion, she and others cast white carnations into a reflecting pool in front of the stage. Some planted small American flags with handwritten messages attached.
Lawmakers at the Wantagh commemoration told the more than 60 people there the same message: Never forget the attacks.
State Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) said that the morning of 9/11 was similar to Wednesday, when the sky was blue with promise of a beautiful day.
"We must never forget all of those people who lost their lives," he said.
"While many people have gone on with their lives, and the resiliency of American citizens is something we should all admire, we thank everybody who comes here," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), whose district includes Wantagh.
In his prayer, chaplain Joe Stein said America should ensure its borders aren't breached anymore and to protect citizens.
"As we honor the memories of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who were murdered on this day, let us vow, never again," he said.
With Joan Gralla, Zachary R. Dowdy
and Deon J. Hampton