In a solemn conclusion to one of New York’s most emotional weeks since 9/11, President Barack Obama made a poignant visit to the city on Thursday, marking the death of the man who turned the World Trade Center into Ground Zero almost 10 years ago.
In multiple stops culminating with a wreath-laying ceremony in the hallowed ground of the lost towers, and in the shadow of the rising new buildings, Obama offered tribute to the 9/11 dead, comforted their families, and saluted the first responders.
The visit, Obama’s first as president to Ground Zero, was an unexpected prelude to the anniversary events, a tour of Gotham no one could have imagined just last week.
Joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other politicians, the president did not speak publicly, instead marking his more than three-hour tour with personal greetings and hugs.
Obama first visited the firehouse at Eighth Avenue and 48th street, nicknamed the “pride of Midtown,” which lost 15 firefighters on 9/11. About 20 firefighters applauded the president.
“Hey everybody, it’s good to be here,” said Obama, joined by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The president told the company the Navy SEALs and CIA team that killed bin Laden early Monday “were doing it in the names of your brothers who were lost.”
The president then visited the NYPD’s 1st Precinct in TriBeCa, which was the first on scene during the 9/11 attacks.
“We’ve never forgotten the courage of the NYPD," he told the 30 officers and top cop Ray Kelly.
Obama came to Ground Zero just before 1 p.m. The president walked with a fire official carrying a wreath of red, white and blue flowers.
Obama and the fire official placed the arrangement on a wooden stand near the “Survivor Tree,” a pear tree found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and nursed back to health. About 60 family members of 9/11 victims witnessed the ceremony.
Obama’s final stop was the preview site for the Sept. 11 Memorial Museum on Vesey Street, where he spoke privately to the families for about 45 minutes. He moved from table to table, consoling those with tears in their eyes, attendees said.
"He reiterated the importance of being here for these family members … and that the government has not forgotten and will continue to bring to justice [the terrorists] who attacked us,” said museum President Joe Daniels, adding that Obama’s words prompted rousing applause.
Bill Doyle carried a framed photo of his son, Joseph, a government bond supervisor who worked on the 101st floor of Tower 1.
Doyle told Obama: “Mission accomplished by you.”
“He smiled and gave me a big hug,” Doyle said.
Marian Fontana, whose firefighter husband, Dave, died on 9/11, said she’s distanced herself from Ground Zero.
“It was absolutely hard to come here today,” said Fontana, of Staten Island, who was encouraged by the opportunity to personally thank the president.
But meeting him didn’t provide closure.
“Closure is not a word I use,” Fontana said. “Grief doesn’t work that way.”
Jennie Farrell, 49, of Wantagh, also said it was painful to come to the site where her brother, James Cartier, an apprentice electrician, was killed.
She said she spoke with Obama about her brother, whose motorcycle is on display at the memorial site.
“I don’t think there’s ever closure,” said Farrell, choked up from the day’s events. “The sorrow and the void in our hearts will never go away.”