9/11 Mourners mark anniversary under rainy skies

Posted: Updated:

9/11 Memorials

8th anniversary of 9/11 terroris attacks - All over the country, people are remembering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that altered New York's skyline and changed our country forever eight years ago.

Related videos:
Search Video:

NEW YORK -- Mourners in New York City are observing a second moment of silence on the eighth anniversary of Sept. 11.

Bells tolled at churches throughout the city Friday and hundreds gathered at a park by ground zero. They fell silent around 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., the times hijacked planes hit the Trade Center's two main towers.

Two more moments of silence are planned in New York for the moments that each tower collapsed.

A smaller-than-usual crowd of just hundreds gathered in rainy, windy weather to observe the anniversary of the worst attacks in the nation's history.

Families carrying photos of lost loved ones streamed into a plaza near ground zero on Friday to observe the eighth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, wiping tears and raindrops from their faces under dreary skies.

Hundreds were attending the now-familiar ceremonies in New York City, at the Pentagon and at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in a Shanksville, Pa., field.

In lower Manhattan, families used rain jackets and ponchos to fend off the rain and strong wind as bells tolled at nearby Trinity Church. Mourners observed a moment of silence - the first of four - around 8:46 a.m., the time the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center. Then the names of victims began to be read.

"It doesn't matter what kind of weather there is. I would be here either way. It's a way to come together and find a common place," said Elaine Dejesus of Clifton, N.J. She carried a framed photo of Nereida Dejesus, who was her sister and best friend.

Dejesus, wiping tears off her cheeks, said the anniversaries don't get any easier.

"For me, it's just the same as it was the first day," she said. "You start preparing mentally, months in advance. There's a lot of praying."

"There are days I just sit there and cry. But I also remember the fun times and what she would want us to do."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the ceremony's beginning, said the city will "safeguard the memory of those who died" by rekindling a spirit of volunteerism.

Vice President Joe Biden laid flowers at a reflecting pool in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd of just several hundred people. At the plaza southeast of ground zero, family members joined with firefighters meals or removed tons of debris from the smoldering Trade Center site to read victims' names.

Drawing on the spirit that spurred volunteers to rush to the burning towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans also looked for ways to help each other on a day better known for mourning.

Teresa Mathai, whose husband, Joseph Mathai, died at the World Trade Center eight years ago Friday, planned to grieve at a morning wreath-laying ceremony in Boston and hear his name read out loud. Then she planned to install drywall at a home in south Boston with Habitat for Humanity, one of thousands of volunteer efforts planned since Sept. 11 was declared a national day of service.

"Everyone has a different way of mourning," she said. "Some people keep it absolutely sacred. For me, this is something that gives us solace."

The combination of mourning and national giving was troubling to some who feared the volunteerism would overshadow a somber day to remember the four hijacked jetliners that crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people, most in New York.

"When I first heard about it, I was concerned," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon. "I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we'll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller."

A wreath was to be laid at a memorial to the Pentagon, where 184 people died when a jet slammed into the building. President Barack Obama and Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates were to meet with victims' family members.

The president planned to "speak about what the day means and the sacrifices of thousands, not just at the Pentagon, but in Pennsylvania and certainly and most obviously in New York," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday.

The president on Thursday pledged to "apprehend all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes, seek justice for those who were killed and defend against all threats to our national security."

In Pennsylvania, the names of the 40 passengers and crew of United 93 were to be read at 10:03 a.m., the time the plane crashed.

Jose Melendez-Perez, a customs agent credited with refusing U.S. entry to a man officials believe was supposed to be the fifth hijacker aboard the flight, was going to the site for the first time. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was giving the keynote speech.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who will also be at the memorial service in New York, said Friday that the anniversary is a "day of sorrow and tragedy, but also a day of heroism and unity," and that remembrance and volunteerism are fitting memorials.

"By serving our communities and our country today and throughout the year, we commemorate our past while also preparing for our future," Napolitano said.

Across the country, a fundraiser to repair storm damage at Central Park, beach cleanups and repairs of homeless shelters were among the organized efforts to give back. Obama and Congress declared Sept. 11 a day of service earlier this year.

The attacks killed 40 people in Pennsylvania, 184 at the Pentagon and 2,752 in New York.

This year, one new name will be read - a victim added to New York's death toll in January. The medical examiner's office ruled that Leon Heyward, who died last year of lymphoma and lung disease, was a homicide victim because he was caught in the toxic dust cloud just after the towers collapsed.

It's the second time the city has added to the victims' list someone who died long after Sept. 11, ruling that exposure to toxic dust caused lung disease.

Associated Press writers Nancy Benac in Washington, Verena Dobnik in New York and Dan Nephin in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)