This story was reported by Graham Rayman, Joshua Robin, Anthony M. DeStefano, Luis Perez and Karen Freifeld. It was written by Rayman.
From the depths of Ground Zero to the Towers of Light, from the break of dawn until well into the evening, New York reflected Thursday on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In the battered World Trade Center bathtub, thousands of relatives of the 2,792 dead gathered to hear the reading of victims' names by 201 children who lost relatives in the attacks.
The reading took about three hours by itself a powerful measure of the loss on that day two years ago.
Some kids repeated the names that they read to get the pronunciation right. Others included little messages to their lost loved ones. "I love you, Daddy. I miss you a lot. Richard Anthony Aceto," said Christina Marie Aceto, 12.
In many ways, this year's event was less elaborate than last year's. City officials said about 10,000 to 12,000 attended the event this year, about half the 20,000 who attended last year.
The ceremony began at 8:41 a.m. with the martial echo of a single drum. Bagpipers performed "Amazing Grace." The tattered flag that flew over the site was carried out and displayed by three men representing the uniformed services. There were pauses at the moments when each of the two planes impacted the towers and when each one collapsed.
The vast site was cleared of construction equipment and surrounded by a fence covered with children's drawings. "I remember riding on Daddy's shoulders," read one signed by Maggie Murphy, 4.
The survivors filed into the 16-acre site, some shaking with sobs as they laid floral tributes in two pools of water shaped as the towers once stood, or held up photos of their loved ones as the names were read. They made the sign of the cross and collected dust into bags.
Paula Shapiro, 59, of San Diego, who lost her son Eric Eisenberg, 32, an AON Corp. executive, was asked if things are getting easier with time. "What's easier?" she said. "Will I ever not cry again? I doubt I'll ever not cry. I really believe that if I cannot turn this into something positive, I'm lost.
"I look at people's expressions, faces, and eyes and the amount of shock I still see. There are a lot of very upset people who have not recovered yet."
Kathleen Lynch, sister of firefighter Francis Lynch of Engine 40, said the two-year anniversary was more difficult than the first.
"I think, in some ways, it's much more real. Many families were still in shock," she said. "I will always come back here. And, hopefully, we will have a place that will really be a tribute to the people that were lost here."
Outside the ceremony, Rene Omlor, 22, from Dusseldorf, Germany, said he flew out of New York on Sept. 8, 2001, but was supposed to have left on Sept. 11. He made his first trip back to the city for the anniversary.
"This is for me like a holy day because it reminds me that I'm saved," he said. "Listening to these names reminds me what I have to do every day, not forget to live."
In and around the site, uniformed firefighters and police officers from near and far, including nearly 100 British police officers dressed in black, clustered to pay their respects.
"I'm just remembering the 11th," said Port Authority Police Chief of Department Joe Morris Jr. "It was hell. I mean chaos ... Sometimes it feels like it's a hundred years ago; sometimes I feel like it's 10 minutes ago."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki and Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey each read a brief passage. "So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart," Bloomberg read, quoting former national poet laureate Billy Collins.
Those who could not get into the pit clustered along police barricades around the site. The vendors who usually sell tourist trinkets there were gone, replaced by religious groups passing out literature that drew parallels between the attacks and Christ's crucifixion.
Beyond the gates, other memorials took place across the city. As the sun was just starting to rise, about 80 Con Edison workers gathered in lower Manhattan to remember their friend Richard Morgan, vice president of emergency management in charge of the Hazmat unit.
Billy Kinlen, 43, of Westchester, a Con Edison worker and friend of Morgan, said, "It's amazing that two years later, it still hurts the way it does. I'm just numb all over."
In midtown and on 34th Street, construction workers who cleared the site held a memorial and a march of their own.
In federal court on Cadman Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn, the remembrance was understated but nonetheless poignant. The nearby firehouse on Middagh Street, Engine 205/Ladder 118, lost eight men in the collapse of the towers.
A year ago, the courthouse had a plaque mounted on the wall of its lobby to memorialize the firefighters. Thursday, a vase with eight red roses and sprigs of baby's breath was placed on a small wooden table under the plaque.
The state's Unified Court System unveiled a bronze plaque dedicated to the three court officers who died while assisting in the rescue effort: Capt. Harry Thompson, 51, and Senior Court Officers Mitchel Wallace, 34, and Thomas Jurgens, 26.
Noreen McDonough, who was engaged to marry Wallace, was among those who attended the ceremony.
"I feel raw," she said. "This year is worse. Last year, we were still under some semblance of anesthesia."
McDonough went to the court building after visiting Ground Zero. "I threw a flower in the pit," she said. "I felt very close to him."
As the day grew to a close, the Tribute in Light was switched on once again in the same nondescript Battery Park City parking lot used last year another mundane spot now permanently suffused with the emotion of the disaster.