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In New York, a lasting memorial for the 9/11 dead

NEW YORK – In the days after the 9/11 attacks, all of New York seemed to become a shrine to the dead. People left heaps of flowers in front of fire stations. They lit candles. They hung photographs of the missing.

Now, at last, there is a permanent memorial to the victims.

Dennis Baxter saw it for the first time Sunday, along with hundreds of other people who lost a relative on 9/11. His brother, Joseph, died in the World Trade Center’s south tower. Baxter found his name inscribed in bronze on the low wall surrounding the enormous fountain and reflecting pool where the tower once stood.

“It was real inspirational to come here after all these years and finally see his name,” said Baxter, 65, of King of Prussia, Pa. “I touched it. … I didn’t know what to do. It was really moving.”

The tree-covered memorial plaza at ground zero opened to the families of the victims for the first time Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Shortly after 9 a.m., a steady stream of people began walking along the black parapets that ring the two pools, searching for the names of their lost loved ones.

Many left flowers. Some stuck small flags in the recesses created by each letter. Others made paper rubbings of the names, or simply stood and wept, as the sound of the roaring waterfalls in each fountain washed over them. The memorial includes the names of all 2,977 people killed on 9/11 in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, as well as the six slain during the bombing of the trade center in 1993.

Mary Dwyer, 36, of Brooklyn, said it was moving to finally be able to stand in the place where her sister, Lucy Fishman, died.

“It’s the closest I’ll ever get to her again,” she said.

Paul Schlehr, of Cincinnati, whose sister-in-law, Margaret Seeliger, also died in the south tower, said he was amazed by the memorial, which occupies an 8-acre plaza and is ringed by new skyscrapers under construction. Each of the memorial pools is an acre in size, and the waterfalls that plunge into the pits drop 30 feet.

“The size of it all is kind of breathtaking,” he said.

The memorial plaza opens to the public today, but on Sunday it was set aside for the victims’ families alone. As they walked the grounds, they expressed sorrow, but some joy and life, too. Some smiled for family photos. Children ran on the grass. A parent changed a diaper.

Work on the memorial is ongoing. An underground section and museum won’t open until next year. A little less than half of the 420 oak trees that will ultimately shade the plaza have yet to be been planted.

But seeing the names was enough for many of the families.

“It breaks me up,” said David Martinez, who watched the attacks happen from his office in Manhattan, and later learned that he had lost a cousin and a brother – one in each tower.

Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, cried when she found his name, grouped with other crew and passengers aboard the flight.

“These are all his crew,” she said. “I know all their families. These passengers, I knew their families. These people are real people to me. It’s very touching to see all these people here together.”

The city remembered Sept. 11 all over again Sunday, with ceremonies that started at dawn at Manhattan’s southern tip, and were to end long after nightfall, with twin beams of light streaming heavenward at the spot where the World Trade Center once stood.