Families share prayers during final ground zero memorial
NEW YORK -- Hundreds of relatives of people lost on Sept. 11 joined hands at the site of the World Trade Center on Sunday as those hit hardest by terrorism sought solace at an interfaith memorial ceremony marking the end of the recovery effort.
Family members hoisted pictures of their loved ones above their heads as the ceremony began with bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace." Then, a woman sang "God Bless America" amid the muffled sobs of relatives.
Among those at the site was William Healey, whose niece Renee Newell, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, the airliner that was flown into the World Trade Center's north tower.
"My niece is here forever," Healey said, speaking before the ceremony. "It doesn't seem like it's the last day to me."
The ceremony included the lighting of four candles: one for peace and three to honor rescue workers, the families and the more than 2,800 people who died there.
'Will live on forever'
"You will never be forgotten. Your memory will live on forever," said one woman, as a candle was lighted. Afterward, nine white doves were released that circled ground zero before soaring out of sight.
Jennifer Nilsen, 33, who lost her husband Troy Nilsen, said the ceremony added a touch of dignity to the grim work at ground zero. The remains of her husband, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, have not been identified.
"It's real important you know, saying goodbye to my husband, which I never wanted to do," she said.
"I'm glad this was done today."
About 1,100 victims have been identified and nearly 20,000 body parts were recovered during the excavation of the 16-acre site, which ended after more than eight months of round-the-clock work.
"Most of these families haven't even found the remains of their loved ones," said Dennis McKeon, director of the St. Clare's Church WTC Outreach program, which organized Sunday's ceremony. "Starting next week, this is going to be a construction site, so this is their last chance to say goodbye."
On Thursday, thousands of people attended a service organized by the city to mark the end of the cleanup at the site and to honor the rescue workers.
An empty, flag-draped stretcher symbolizing the victims whose remains have not been recovered was carried out of the pit, followed by the trade center's last steel beam, draped in black cloth and a flag.
Criticism of mayor
Some victims' relatives had criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not holding the service on a weekend, when they said it would be easier for families to attend.
Sunday's ceremony was planned for family members who weren't able to be there Thursday.
The mayor said he chose a weekday because he did not want the service to interfere with religious observances.
He said he wouldn't attend Sunday's service because he didn't "want to politicize anything."
Among those who did attend on Sunday were former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Charles Schumer.
The search for human remains will continue at the Staten Island landfill, where 1.8 million tons of debris from the site were taken by trucks and barges, city officials said. Remains not identified will be kept until science advances makes further identification possible.
The cleanup finished more than three months earlier than expected and, at less than $750 million, at a fraction of the estimated cost.