The service began with the tolling of a bell, sounding out the fire department’s code of four sets of five rings, in memory of the 343 firefighters who perished. The first bell rang at 10:29 am, precisely when the second tower collapsed on Sept. 11.
Hundreds of mourners gathered around the huge site more than an hour before the ceremony began, some holding pictures of loved ones lost in the attack.
Ten police, firefighters, and other emergency workers carried an empty, flag-draped stretcher out of the pit, in memory of the 1,700 victims whose remains were never recovered.
The final stretcher was lifted into a NY Fire Department ambulance, while several politicians, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, police and fire officials, stood in attention along side.
A band of bagpipers and drummers, playing “America the Beautiful,” followed behind as the ambulance slowly drove up the 500-foot ramp to ground level.
“It was tough to come here every day and now it’s tough to leave,” firefighter John Keating told the Associated Press, as scores of firefighters, police, and other emergency workers — many of whom labored around the clock over the past eight-and-a-half months — stood by and saluted the solemn procession.
A flatbed truck proceeded behind the procession, carrying the last steel beam to be removed from the site. The 30-foot beam, also covered by an American flag, withstood the collapse of the two towers and was finally cut down after a ceremony on Tuesday.
Of the more than 2,800 people killed in the attack, workers recovered the remains of 1,102 victims. Nearly 20,000 unidentified body parts have been recovered.
New York City officials said the search for body parts in a landfill and the identification process will continue for months ahead. Any remains that cannot be identified will be retained, in case new technology could someday make it possible.
Specific development plans for the WTC site remain under discussion, but control over the grounds reverted from New York City to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land.
Last week, the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. announced their choice to contract architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle as an urban planning consultant that will assist their staffs in producing a plan. A final plan is supposed to be chosen by Dec. 1.