About a thousand 9/11 family members, survivors, rescuers and officials were gathered as the ceremony at the World Trade Center began with a moment of silence and tolling bells. Then, relatives began reading out the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
As they read, some said they couldn’t believe 16 years had passed since a tragedy that still seemed, on the anniversary, so present. Some had never even had a chance to meet the relatives they lost.
“I wish more than anything that I could have met you,” Ruth Daly said, her voice breaking, after she read names in remembrance of her slain grandmother, Ruth Sheila Lapin. “I’m very proud to be your namesake. I hope you’re watching down on me from heaven.”
Others hoped for a return to the unity they sensed after the attacks.
Magaly Lemagne, who lost her brother, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Officer David Prudencio Lemagne, wept silently before collecting herself to speak.
“Our country came together that day. And it did not matter what color you were, or where you were from,” she said. “I hope as we commemorate the 16th anniversary of 9/11, everyone will stop for a moment and remember all the people who gave their lives that day.
“Maybe then we can put away our disagreements and become one country again.”
Expressing similar hopes, Nicholas Haros Jr. said the country’s response to catastrophic recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma reminded him of the days after Sept. 11. He lost his mother, Frances.
Sixteen years later, the quiet rhythms of commemoration have become customs: a recitation of all the names of the dead, moments of silence and tolling bells, and two powerful light beams that shine through the night.
Yet each ceremony also takes on personal touches. Over the years, some name-readers have added messages ranging from the universal (“the things we think separate us really don’t — we’re all part of this one Earth”) to the personal (“I love you and miss you. Go Packers!”).
The victims died when hijacked planes slammed into the trade center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001, hurling America into a new consciousness of the threat of global terrorism.