America marked the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with victims’ relatives reading their names and reflecting on a loss that still felt as immediate to them as it was indelible for the nation.
But despite a tradition of putting aside partisan politics for the day, the observance became part of the news of a combustible presidential campaign when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton left about 90 minutes into the ground zero ceremony after feeling “overheated”, her campaign said.
The 15th anniversary arrives in a country caught up in the campaign, keenly focused on political, economic and social fissures and still fighting terrorism. But for those who lost relatives, the fraught passage of 15 years feels “like 15 seconds”, said Dorothy Esposito, who lost her son, Frankie.
More than 1,000 victims’ family members, survivors and dignitaries gathered at ground zero .
“It doesn’t get easier. The grief never goes away. You don’t move forward – it always stays with you,” said Tom Acquaviva, who lost his son, Paul.
James Johnson was there for the first time since he last worked on the rescue and recovery efforts in early 2002, when he was a New York City police officer.
“I’ve got mixed emotions, but I’m still kind of numb,” said Johnson, now a police chief in Forest City, Pennsylvania. “I think everyone needs closure, and this is my time to have closure.”
Nearly 3,000 people died when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville on 11 September, 2001. It was the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said yesterday that the United States was safer now than it was in 2001 against another 9/11-style attack but continued to face the challenge of potential attacks by solo and home-grown violent extremists.
President Barack Obama, speaking at the Pentagon memorial service, praised America’s diversity and urged Americans not to let their enemies divide them.
“Our patchwork heritage is not a weakness – it is still and always will be one of our greatest strengths,” Obama said. “This is the America that was attacked that September morning. This is the America that we must remain true to.”
Meanwhile in Scotland, a memorial service was held in Glasgow to mark the 15th anniversary.
The Church of Scotland-led memorial at Cathcart Old Parish Church saw wreaths laid and the flags of the New York police and fire departments flown.
It was led by Rev Neil Galbraith with Christians and Muslims involved in readings during the service.
Representatives of the Scottish Ahlul Bayat Society, a faith group which works in the Shia Muslim community, laid a wreath, read from the Koran and lit one of 15 candles.
Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson and local politicians also laid wreaths.
Rev Galbraith founded an aid charity called Glasgow the Caring City which sent a disaster relief team to New York in the days after the terrorist attack. He said around 70 American families have been flown over to Glasgow in the last decade for “therapy” holidays organised by the charity.
His church also has a piece of marble and part of a girder from the Twin Towers.
He said: “It is important to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks because the worldwide consequences of that day have been immense.”
In London, people gathered in silence to mark the terror attack.
Two silences lasting one minute were held at the 9/11 memorial in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to mark the times two passenger jets were flown onto the World Trade Centre.
Peter Rosengard, of the Since 9/11 charity which organised the gathering, said the horror of that day “changed the world forever”.
“It changed our world forever, and now on the 15th anniversary, we remember those innocent victims. We remember and reflect and honour their memory.”
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks – 67 of them British.