Haunting images at 9/11 memorial
A sea of smiling faces captured at various moments in time.
The images today held in the hands of mourning loved ones at the site where the north and south World Trade Centres once stood in New York City, to mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US. Other portraits and family photos placed alongside flowers and national flags on honorary fountains where victims' names are inscribed, in the shadow of a glistening Freedom Tower as it peeks through a halo of clouds.
The sombre scene is a stark reminder of those who were robbed of their lives and whose hopes and dreams will never be fulfilled.
Almost 3,000 people were killed when terrorists hijacked four commercial planes and slammed them into the World Trade Centres, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, on a clear autumn day, almost two decades ago. It was the worst terror attack to ever take place on American soil.
But while the face of lower Manhattan has changed dramatically since 9/11, the love and sense of loss remain the same, with the annual rite of remembrance at ground zero a clear testament to that.
The ceremony honours those killed in the attacks with the reading of all victims' names, and moments of silence, as well as tolling bells that mark the times when the planes crashed and the centre's twin towers fell. The event is closed to the general public and attended mostly by victims' family members and first responders, many of whom bring framed or printed photographs of those lost to pay tribute to them.
Among those pictured: children, families, and men and women of various ages, colours and religions, from some 70 countries around the world - all faces of people who have since missed so many personal milestones. For many surviving family members and loved ones, the magnitude of each loss, is still so very raw.
"So many milestones that he's missed," one woman said of her dead husband.
"This one's kind of hard."
One after the other, family members of 9/11 victims took to the podium on Wednesday, and read names of those lost. In between readings, bagpipers played "America the Beautiful" and an honour guard carried in the US flag. Many onlookers wept.
Australian Simon Kennedy, whose mother Yvonne Kennedy was killed on-board American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists hijacked the plane and flew it into the Pentagon, travelled from Sydney to New York for the ceremony.
"It's not going to be fun but I'm here to make her proud," Mr Kennedy told news.com.au before taking part in the name reading.
Ms Kennedy, 63, was one of 10 Australian victims killed in the 9/11 attacks
Parboti Parbhu choked up as she spoke about her slain sister, Hardai.
"There's no easy way to say goodbye", she said.
Bud Salter, who lost his sister, Catherine, also took part in the name reading.
"Eighteen years. We will not forget. We cannot forget," he said.
By now, the heritage of grief has been handed down to a new generation, including children and young adults who knew their lost relatives barely or not at all.
Jacob Campbell was 10 months old when his mother, Jill Maurer-Campbell, died on 9/11.
"It's interesting growing up in a generation that doesn't really remember it. I feel a connection that no one I go to school with can really understand," Mr Campbell, a University of Michigan sophomore, said at the ceremony.
Others made a point of spotlighting the suffering of firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after being exposed to the smoke, dust and other toxic substances at ground zero.
A compensation fund for people with health problems related to 9/11 has paid out more than US$5.5 billion so far. More than 51,000 people have applied.
US President Donald Trump today laid a wreath at the Pentagon, telling victims' relatives: "This is your anniversary of personal and permanent loss".
"It's the day that has replayed in your memory a thousand times over. The last kiss. The last phone call. The last time hearing those precious words, 'I love you'," Mr Trump said.
We will never forget 9/11. It was the worst attack on our nation since the War of 1812. It was the greatest display of domestic bravery in anyone’s memory. The enemy attacking us that day is still killing Americans. We honor all who have kept us safe.— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) September 11, 2019
Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the third site where planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Mike Pence credited the crew and passengers who fought back against the hijackers with protecting him and others in the US Capitol that day.
"I will always believe that I and many others in our nation's capital were able to go home that day and hug our families because of the courage and selflessness of your families," Mr Pence, who was an Indiana congressman at the time, said.
Like the families, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath of the attacks. The effects are visible from airport security checkpoints across the US to Afghanistan, where the post-9/11 invasion has become America's longest war. The aim was to dislodge Afghanistan's then-ruling Taliban for harbouring al-Qaeda leader and September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden - who was killed in 2011.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump called off a secret meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghan government leaders and declared the peace talks "dead".
Al-Qaeda's current leader used the anniversary to call for more attacks on the US and other targets.