Thousands gathered under heavy gray skies in lower Manhattan Tuesday, honoring those who died and sharing the profound grief that remains 17 years after the terror attacks of 9/11.
The fog thickened the sad mood, building to a steady rainfall as the ceremony progressed. Families of those who died raised photos and signs high as a bell rang out at 8:46 a.m. to memorialize the moment when the first terrorist-hijacked plane struck the north tower of the Twin Towers.
A stillness descended over the crowd as the procession began with the American flag carried into Ground Zero by police and fire members in dress uniforms just before 8:45 a.m. The singing of the national anthem seemed a bit more mournful than usual, as though focusing on the sacrifices made for freedom.
Numerous people placed roses over the name of their loved one engraved along the edge of the pool built on the site where the Twin Towers stood 17 years ago.
Sgt. Edwin Morales, an Army reserve member, was dressed in full uniform and carried a framed photo collage of his cousin, firefighter Ruben Correa, who was killed at the hotel at 3 World Trade Center.
The collage was made by a student from Maryland for a class project and was presented to Morales on Tuesday morning.
“He’s here with us now,” Morales said of his cousin. “Never forget this day. Never forget anyone who died.”
The crowd included numerous dignitaries including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rep. Peter King. There was a moment of silence to mark the time the first plane struck the north tower.
The emotional core of the ceremony by the 9/11 Memorial remains the hourslong reading of the names of those who perished. One by one, people read groups of names, ending with some personal words about their own loved one now gone.
Jim Winters, brother-in-law of Carl Molinaro, ended by saying he'd like to read a short note from Molinaro's children, Carl and Sabrina.
“The best compliment we receive is that we are a lot like you," said the missive. "We know wherever we go in life we carry you with us.”
Diana Rivera, one of the readers, spoke about her sister, Claudia Alicia Foster, when she finished reading her list of names.
“It’s been 17 years since we lost you," she said. "In those 17 years, your spirit lives on in my heart and my memories.”
The tragedy of Sept. 11 still runs deep in the memories of New Yorkers.
Maria Petraglia, 52, of Howard Beach, still works in lower Manhattan next to the World Trade Center.
Six months pregnant, Petraglia was at her desk on Broad Street when the first plane torpedoed into the north tower.
“I saw the second plane crash into the tower. It was a matter of minutes before everything began to escalate," she said, standing where the Twin Towers stood. "Phones ringing from families calling worried. When the towers collapsed everything turned dark."
At the first sign of light she and her co-workers left their Broad Street building. She recalled: “God was good that day. A guy at work gave me the keys to his car. It took five hours to get home but I didn’t have to walk over bridges and streets that were covered in dust ... New Yorkers became brothers and sisters after that day and it lasted a long time.”
Det. Frank Accardi of the Port Authority remembered the morning with crystal clarity. He was working inside The Port Authority’s Trade Center’s precinct and was charged with manning the communication command center.
When the towers collapsed it was pitch dark.
“We could hear the beeping of the first responders' oxygen tanks," Accardi said. "We reached for them and grabbed them and pulled them inside the command center and poured water on them from the five gallon water cooler jug. We were pulling cement out of their mouths."
Still on the job, Accardi was on duty this Tuesday morning.
“Coming here brings me closer to the guys I was with that day," he said.
The 2,983 names read also include those who died at the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The names of the six victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were read as well.
The readings of the names temporarily paused multiple times — at 9:03 a.m., in observance of the moment United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower; at 9:37 a.m., the time American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon; at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower collapsed; at 10:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed; and at 10:28 a.m., the time the north tower collapsed.
In addition to the service at Memorial Plaza, other ceremonies in the city will take place at the "Postcards" sculpture on Staten Island, which has the names of all the Staten Island residents killed in the terrorist attacks, the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, and the 9/11 Tribute Park in Rockaway.