LOWER MANHATTAN — Some clutched photos of their loved ones. Others arrived with flowers, tears already flowing down their cheeks.
Hundreds of people quietly filed onto the 9/11 Memorial Plaza early Friday morning, gathering for what is now a familiar ceremony to pay tribute to relatives and friends they lost 14 years ago.
"For me, now, this is a peaceful, beautiful place," said Ann Douglas, gripping a photo of her son, Frederick Cox, who died on the 104th floor of the South Tower when he was 27 years old.
"People grieve differently, but I had to focus on the happy life he had, the happiness that he brought to us — all the families here, we are connected, heart to heart."
During the somber commemoration, friends and family read names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks. For several hours, as they stand next to the massive memorial pools that now sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers, they say the names of their parents, their spouses, their children or other relatives who perished in the terror attacks.
Choking back tears, Laurie Weinberg read the name of her husband, Steven Weinberg. "I'm sure you are watching us," she said, after saying his name aloud. "You were our hero."
The reading is broken by six moments of silence, pauses that mark when the hijacked planes hit each tower, when the towers collapsed, as well as when the Pentagon was attacked and Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
For Laurie Gill, the ceremony brings a sense of solace.
"It's a pain that never goes away," said Gill, who's 34-year-old son Paul Gill, a firefighter with Engine 54, died trying to rescue those trapped in the towers.
"I come every year because I need to remember Paul, and we all need to remember 9/11."
Gill, from Astoria, Queens, said her son always dreamed of being a fireman. She was surrounded by family members wearing T-shirts bearing his name.
"That was all he ever wanted," she said. "But a little more than a year after he finally became a firefighter, we had 9/11," she said.
"I think this day should be a national holiday, a day we all stop to remember what we've all lost."
The ceremony, which began at 8:40 a.m., was being webcast on the 9/11 Memorial's website.
A host of officials attended the commemoration, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Gov. Chris Christie and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The memorial will reopen to the public at 3 p.m.
Later in the day, at dusk, visitors can view the Tribute in Light, two beams of blue light symbolizing the Twin Towers that are shined straight into the night sky. The plaza will remain open until midnight.