9-11 families see signs of life, loss at WTC

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

NEW YORK -- When silence fell over ground zero to mark the moments when the planes crashed and towers collapsed five years ago, the relatives of the dead found themselves searching for reminders of life.

As husbands, wives and lovers recited the names of all 2,749 people killed in the New York attack, families and friends knelt to touch the ground, gazed up at the vacant sky and felt the wind stir.

"Every single year we come -- it's the place where I can touch my son," said Emma Calvi, whose 34-year-old son worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. Her husband, Mario Calvi, gestured with a wave of his hand and added, "It's a special place at a special time. It's like we see him."

And so came thousands of others to the trade center site Monday, drawn here because they said it is where they have to be on Sept. 11.

Sherri Williams, whose daughter Candace was on the first plane to hit the trade center, comes every year "to keep her legend alive."

She and her son begin the day by visiting Candace's grave in Danbury, Conn., covering it with yellow roses, her favorite. Then they get on a train and travel to lower Manhattan.

"It's so hard to believe the five years have passed," Sherri Williams said, holding a large, framed photo of her blonde, blue-eyed daughter. "She would have been 25. She wanted to do so much with her life."

Mourners observed four moments of silence at the site -- at 8:46 a.m., to coincide with the time the first plane hit. Three more pauses followed: at 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hit, and at 9:59 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., when the towers collapsed.

"The wind really whipped up, because they are constantly around," said Diana Ottomano, whose nephew died in the south tower. "All these souls are here. They are here. There's no closure."

At the Pentagon and on a windswept Pennsylvania field, and in simpler, quiet events, Americans held moments of silence, rang church bells and illuminated the sky with red, white and blue lights.

Just above the desolate 16-acre trade center site, spouses and significant others of the victims read their names and poured out their hearts to the rescuers, financial workers and airline passengers killed five years ago.

"If I could build a staircase to heaven, I would just so I could quickly run up there to have you back in my arms," said Carmen Suarez, wife of police officer Ramon Suarez, killed at the trade center.

Family members also descended into the mostly vacant site 70 feet below ground where the towers stood, tearfully laying wreaths and roses in the reflecting pools that symbolized the spots where the twin towers once soared above the city skyline.

The water was soon thick with roses, left behind by family members who knelt in quiet prayer before moving on. The mournful sound of bagpipes, so familiar from the seemingly endless funerals that followed Sept. 11, echoed across ground zero after a choir performed the national anthem.

President Bush bowed his head with firefighters at a local station in Manhattan in moments of silence to mark the times when the planes crashed into the trade center. He later attended a memorial ceremony at Shanksville, Pa., where hijacked United Flight 93 crashed into a field, killing 40 people. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid tribute to the 184 people killed at the Pentagon.

At ground zero, family members repeatedly invoked the names of their children, standing beneath a bright, cloudless sky reminiscent of that morning in 2001.

Christina Lynch mentioned her daughter, Olivia. Sheila Martello mentioned her two sons, Thomas and James. The messages were all much the same: We love you. We miss you. We will never forget you.

Several held up photos of their lost loves, the pictures waving in the soft wind, or wore T-shirts, pendants and buttons with photographs. They told their loved ones how their children -- or grandchildren they had never met -- were, wished them happy birthday and said they hoped they were enjoying heaven.

"Richie, I'm sure you're keeping that room up there laughing," said Georgia Cudina, whose husband was one of 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed at the trade center.

"Honey, I want you to have a happy grandparents' day in heaven," said Elaine Moccia, releasing a balloon as she spoke to her late husband, Frank Moccia Sr.

The ritual has changed little since the first anniversary of the attacks, and in many ways the site has remained the same as well.

Squabbles over design and security have caused long delays in the project to rebuild at ground zero. Only this year did construction start on a Sept. 11 memorial and the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, which is not expected to be finished for five more years.

Across the nation, several cities lowered flags and observed moments of silence to mark the anniversary. Arkansas residents honored victims with a three-block "Freedom Walk," while Texas and Arizona dedicated memorials. A 100-foot sculpture donated by a Russian artist was to be dedicated in Bayonne, N.J., later Monday, although the memorial lists more than 40 additional names of people who weren't killed in the attacks.

In Akron, Ohio, firefighters rolled their trucks out of their garages and sounded their sirens for 30 seconds at the moment the south tower of the trade center collapsed, and again a half-hour later for the north tower.

After visiting Shanksville on Monday, the president and first lady placed a wreath near a plaque on the outside of the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 tore a gash in the building. Bush appeared teary-eyed as he greeted victims' family members around him, and he could be seen mouthing "God bless you" as he embraced them.

The day was marked with reminders of the sometimes tense new reality that settled on the nation, and particularly its transportation systems, after the attacks five years ago.

New York's bustling Pennsylvania Station was briefly evacuated because of a suspicious duffel bag that turned out to be holding only trash. And a jet bound for San Francisco was diverted to Dallas after a backpack and handheld e-mail device were found on board. Both items were pronounced harmless.

And lest anyone forget the terrorists responsible for the day, al-Qaida's second in command warned of forthcoming strikes in the Persian Gulf and against Israel in a new video Monday.

It was one of three al-Qaida videos released around the 9-11 anniversary. One showed images of the fuel-laden jets striking the trade center, and in another Osama bin Laden smiled and chatted with the plotters of the attacks.

In Washington, the co-chairmen of the Sept. 11 commission assailed the Bush administration and Congress for what they called a lack of urgency in protecting the country. Only about half of the 41 recommendations issued by the commission two years ago have become law.

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