Retired FDNY deputy chief Jim Riches said that even if the annual Sept. 11 ceremony at the World Trade Center site were to end one day, he will still make it a point to be at Ground Zero on each anniversary to remember his son killed in the terror attacks.
After the towers fell, Riches spent his spare time as part of the recovery effort, digging through rubble in search of remains of his son, Jimmy, a 29-year-old firefighter with Engine 4 who perished while trying to rescue people from the North Tower.
"We always go down there, because that's where he died," said Riches, 58, of Bay Ridge. "I know exactly where we found his body. It was at the front tower. We leave flowers there."
While grieving loved ones like Riches attend every year, over time some have looked to move on, grieve at home or attend an increasing number of smaller memorial ceremonies held around the region to remember the 2,752 who perished. The city does not keep track of the number of attendees, but regulars say the numbers are decreasing.
"I know that there are fewer people," says Sally Regenhard of the Bronx, who lost her son Christian Michael Otto Regenhard, a firefighter with Ladder 131, Engine 279 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, who is one of 1,100 people whose remains are still missing. "It's very, very difficult to go to Ground Zero. I would like to see a strong showing down at Ground Zero, because that's what the world looks at."
Families of those who died get letters or have cards that serve as their official ticket into ceremonies that will begin at 8:40 a.m. Friday, shortly before the first tower was struck, and run until noon. A moment of silence will be held at 8:46 a.m. and again at 9:03 a.m., commemorating the times the planes struck the two buildings, and again at 9:59 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., at the times the towers crumbled.
Security is tight and many streets around the area are closed to vehicles and even pedestrian traffic. The public will not be allowed inside the ceremony. The city has set up a viewing area at Liberty Street and Broadway and city officials say they will accommodate as many people as needed.
Each year the city adopts a theme for those who read the names at the ceremony, such as last year when the children of those who perished read the names. This year's theme is a National Day of Service and Remembrance, to go along with legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama recognizing Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. To pay tribute to those who toiled at Ground Zero in the weeks after the attacks, the 230 readers will be about half family members and half those who give their time to service organizations.
"The volunteers who are participating are from two areas," said Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "The first from nonprofits that partner with NYC service and the second is organizations that are related to 9/11. They are just people who are giving up their time and energy to different service organizations."
Among the organizations participating are the City Meals on Wheels, the American Red Cross and Community Emergency Response Teams citywide. The groups comprise six priority areas of service including education, public health and environment, and emergency preparedness, Erskine said. The mayor's office asked groups to send their top two or three volunteers.
Service will also be the theme in the evening at a tribute concert at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side. Scheduled guests include Bloomberg, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gov. David A. Paterson, actor Gary Sinise, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon and his house band The Roots.
And there is the "Tribute in Light," the art installation of 88 separate search lights to commemorate those who died and those who worked on the recovery. It begins at sunset and lasts until dawn on Sept. 12.
For people like Lynette Mohammed-Coe of Bellmore, it's all too much. Mohammed-Coe said she used to go to Ground Zero on 9/11 for the ceremony, but finds the commotion and pain still raw from the loss of her husband, Boyie Mohammed, 50, a stock trader at Carr Futures Inc. "I watch it on TV," she says. "I just wait to hear his name called."
But Matt Casey, 22, of Holmdel, N.J., finds solace in the events. At last year's ceremony, he read the name of his mother, Kathleen Ann Hunt Casey, an equities trader who worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. "I like going to the big events, instead of staying low key," he said. "Nothing is going to change it. You just have to remember them."