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Crowds at Ground Zero Celebrate bin Laden's Death

By Julie Shapiro | May 2, 2011 1:17am | Updated on May 2, 2011 11:33am

By Carla Zanoni, Julie Shapiro, Jill Colvin, Tara Kyle, Patrick Hedlund, Tom Liddy and Michael Ventura

DNAinfo Staff

GROUND ZERO — Osama bin Laden's death brought thousands of New Yorkers and tourists out into the streets starting in the middle of night to share in the outpouring of emotion — and even celebration.

For many the right place to be was at Ground Zero, where new towers are rising where the Twin Towers once stood. Hundreds of people gathered at Church and Vesey streets, stopping traffic, just a block away from where the new 1 World Trade Center lit up the night sky.

"I'm not looking at the people. I'm still looking at what used to be," said Ray Zimmerman, 56, who's lived blocks from Ground Zero for 40 years.

"People feel a need to be together to celebrate," he said. "This is a righteous win. Our guys did an amazing job and won. I'm glad to see our people are proud of our guys over there.

NYPD Sgt. Jerry Sheridan, 43, of TriBeCa, was a first responder on 9/11 and went to the impromptu celebration at Ground Zero to come "full circle" with the attacks. He lost four close friends that day.

"I'm sure everybody's smiling down this evening," he said. "There's some satisfaction. It doesn't change anything, but it puts a smile on everybody's face for a night."

Sophia Peng, 34, of Hell’s Kitchen, lost her roommate from the University of Michigan on 9/11.

"This news is so amazing," Peng said. "I feel vindicated for her today. I’m overcome with emotion. This is the best news I’ve heard since that tragic day. All those feelings of being proud to be an American are coming back again."

Some in the throng waved American flags. Bag pipers soon arrived and played "Amazing Grace." Other revelers chanted "USA! USA!" and sang the "National Anthem" and "God Bless America."

The crowds remained at Ground Zero into Monday morning, gathering in such force and drawing such a throng of media coverage that the city shut down a block of Vesey Street between Church and Broadway to make room for them all during the morning rush hour.

Officials at the scene also relocated some of those who made a pilgrimage to Ground Zero to the opposite side of the street to make room for the crush of morning commuters rushing to work.

Not everyone, however, was comfortable with the chanting and the devolution of the night into a big party.

"I don't feel very celebratory about this," said Robert Considine, 57, of Chelsea, who lost a friend in the attacks. "A lot of people died here. It's hard to wrap my mind around it."

John Martin, 28, of the Financial District, thought the revelry was "borderline disrespectful. This is not a concert. It was like our family here, too."

He came down to Ground Zero to "feel a sense of celebration and connection to everyone," he said. "Everyone in this city and country has been yearning for this day and this sense of unity and purpose. It's indescribable. It's a great day for the city."

In the East Village, men gathered around a TV in the Little Pakistan Deli, on Second Avenue, to watch the news. Bin Laden had been hiding in a mansion near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, when U.S. forces found and shot him.

Muhammad Nawaz, 32, a deli worker, moved to New York City 11 years ago from the Punjab province of Pakistan.

"Finally, this guy is gone," Nawaz said. "The Pakistani people are very happy, the Pakistani government is very happy, because this guy makes a lot of trouble everywhere. He made a lot of trouble in Pakistan."

Up in Times Square, another throng gathered. People serenaded firefighters who stood atop their fire engine with chants and patriotic songs. Many pulled out their camera phones to document the evening.

Firefighters from Engine 54/Ladder 4, which lost 15 members on 9/11, also joined the Times Square celebration. They waved to the crowd from atop their rig, and even welcomed actor Rob Lowe to join them.

"It feels amazing to be an American. We're united again," said NYU student Joseph Solomite, 19, of the East Village. "For every family that lost somebody, this is for them.