Under chill gray clouds that gradually gave way to patches of blue, the city paused Thursday to observe the seventh anniversary of a day that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said “began like any other and ended like no other.”
Tearful and often defiant, and waving large photos of some of the 2,751 people killed at the World Trade Center, hundreds of relatives and friends steeled themselves and marked the passing of another year since terrorists crashed two hijacked jets into the twin towers. Others gathered in smaller remembrances around the region, in firehouses and parks and houses of worship.
For the second year, construction kept the main ceremony out of the excavated hole at ground zero, but many mourners bearing bouquets and mementos were escorted down a ramp to the towers’ footprints. A few hours later, both major presidential candidates made the same trek into the pit.
Lorraine and Tommy Betancourt, from Astoria, Queens, came this year, as every year, to feel close to their lost son, Firefighter Paul Gill, 34, of Engine Company 54 on Manhattan’s West Side, the father of two boys.
It was important for them to be there. “As long as we can go to the pit to pay our respects,” said Betancourt, a retired nurse. “They never recovered any part of his remains, so that’s were he’s buried as far as we’re concerned.”
The name of every victim was read aloud and announced by 105 pairs of readers. Each pair included a relative of a victim and a foreign student representing one of the 95 countries that lost someone in the carnage. It took more than three hours to intone all the names.
A bell chimed and the crowd fell silent at four moments: 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines flight 11 struck the north tower; 9:03, when United flight 175 hit the south tower; 9:59, when the south tower collapsed; and 10:29, when the north tower fell.
The reading of some names was accompanied by the release of heart-shaped balloons that drifted over the crowd and out of sight northward over the downtown skyline. When they came to their own son, daughter, husband or wife, many readers added a poignant personal note. “Mommy and I wish you a happy birthday,” said one father.