NEW YORK -- Two by two they stepped forward at ground zero Thursday, the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters of the Sept. 11, 2001, victims, mournfully reciting the 2,792 names of the World Trade Center dead.
"My mother and my hero," 13-year-old Brian Terzian said after reading the name of his mother, Stephanie McKenna. "We love you."
For a second straight year, the nation paused on a bright September morning to recall the day when hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing more than 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
In New York, 200 children led the mourning, showing extraordinary poise as they read the enormous list of victims for 2 1/2 hours. Church bells tolled at the moment hijacked Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pa. A moment of silence was observed at the Pentagon for the 184 victims there. And President Bush stood in silence on the White House lawn.
"We remember the heroic deeds," Bush said. "We remember the compassion, the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day. We pray for the husbands and wives, the moms and dads, and the sons and daughters and loved ones."
The ceremonies came as the federal government warned of possible al-Qaida attacks against Americans overseas in connection with the anniversary. An Osama bin Laden videotape emerged a day earlier, but U.S. officials sought to downplay its relevance.
The relatives at ground zero appeared in various sad permutations: Police Sgt. Michael Curtin was represented by his three daughters, Jennifer, 17, Erica, 15, and Heather, 13. Kristen Canillas, 12, stood alongside 8-year-old Christopher Cardinali; both had lost a grandparent.
"I love you and I miss you," Kristen said after reciting the name of her grandfather, Anthony Luparello.
The children -- the youngest was 7 -- offered poignant messages to their lost loved ones, their emotions laid bare before a crowd that held aloft pictures of the victims, dabbed tears from their eyes, and laid flowers in temporary reflecting pools representing the towers.
The two years since the attack seemed to disappear as speakers surrendered to their emotions.
Scoops of dirt
Some family members used their hands to scoop up dirt from the site as a keepsake, slipping it into bags and empty water bottles. For many, it may provide the only link to their lost relatives; authorities estimate the remains of as many as 1,000 victims may never be identified.
The crowd of thousands observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane slammed into the north tower.
At sunset, two light beams pointing skyward were switched on, evoking the image of the twin towers. They will go dark today at daybreak.
The remembrance extended far beyond lower Manhattan. Firefighters in Chicago joined in the moment of silence, while bells tolled in Milwaukee.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld presided over a ceremony at the Pentagon and attended a wreath-laying at nearby Arlington National Cemetery. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died in the attack, told Justice Department employees that an unrelenting fight against terrorism is the best way to honor the memory of those who died.
"Their suffering and deaths must fuel our dedication to stamp out this cancer," Olson said.
In rural Pennsylvania, church bells began tolling solemnly shortly after 10 a.m. to mark the moment Flight 93 crashed. The plane was believed to be headed to the nation's capital; it went down as the passengers fought back against the hijackers.
For a second straight year, family and friends of the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed in the trade center attack gathered in Central Park for a memorial service. The group met beneath a white tent festooned with an American flag.
Some families of the 700 New Jersey victims in the trade center attended ceremonies in their home state, including the unveiling of black marble monuments for the 37 residents of Middletown, N.J., killed by the terrorists.
"It's not easy today," said Rose Marie D'Amato, whose sister was working on the 94th floor of the north tower. "I felt like I wanted to be here, and I wanted to be in New York. We never recovered any body remains."
In Manhattan, the footprint of the trade center's north tower was outlined by a 4-foot fence draped with banners bearing drawings and messages painted by children of the victims.
"I remember riding on daddy's shoulders," read the message from 4-year-old Maggie Murphy, written between a picture of flowers and the two towers.
Family members of victims walked down a ramp into the pit of the site. Some knelt to touch the trade center's bedrock; others hugged or wept.
Joan Molinaro, the mother of late firefighter Carl Molinaro, spoke for all the parents who had lost their children.
"I feel your hand leave mine," Molinaro said, reading from a poem she had written. "I feel that warm, gentle kiss and wake to the tears on my cheek.
"My baby boy is gone."