A 12-year-old girl who lost her father when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center six months ago filled the hole torn in New York's skyline Monday night, sending two columns of light soaring skyward from beside ground zero.
Relatives of some of the thousands killed in the attack watched as Valerie Webb activated 88 powerful searchlights arranged in two masses to simulate the twin towers in a "Tribute of Light." The remains of her father, Port Authority police officer Nathaniel Webb, still haven't been found.
More than words ever could, the ethereal memorial — lit to the strains of "America the Beautiful" — sought to assuage the ache and loss felt by the entire nation after terrorists struck that September day.
The memorial will shine each night until April 13.
"The lights will reach up to the skies and into heaven, near where the heroes are now," said Arthur Leahy, holding a picture of his brother James Leahy, a New York police officer who died on Sept. 11.
The lighting capped a day of tributes from Boston, New York and rural Pennsylvania to the nation's capital, where President Bush offered words of resolve at a White House ceremony attended by more than 100 ambassadors as well as victims' relatives and members of Congress.
"History will know that day not only as a day of tragedy, but as a day of decision when the civilized world was stirred to anger and to action," Bush said, calling on nations to press the fight against terrorism.
At the Pentagon, where 189 people died on Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with military leaders from nations in the anti-terrorism coalition. And in Shanksville, Pa., church bells tolled at 10:06 a.m. in memory of the 44 victims aboard United Flight 93, the fourth hijacked jet to crash that day. It went down in the countryside, apparently after some of the passengers fought back.
As the memorial of light slowly gained power, soprano Jessye Norman sang "America the Beautiful" and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the tribute "reminds us there is still much in this world to be hopeful about and that the human spirit will always prevail."
In nearby Battery Park, a pile of flowers and pictures of the dead and missing grew at the base of "The Sphere," a damaged steel and bronze sculpture that once stood in the trade center plaza and has been dedicated as a temporary memorial.
People cheered from their Brooklyn rooftops as the searchlights beamed skyward. In New York Harbor, more than 100 relatives of those killed watched from a boat.
Many said the new memorial is comforting, but a permanent tribute remains an important goal.
"We expect there to be a more significant memorial when it's all done," said Jack Lynch, whose son, firefighter Michael Lynch, died in the attack.
The tributes began hours earlier. Several hundred people gathered at Battery Park for moments of silence at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., the precise times that two planes hit the towers and caused the catastrophe that killed 2,830 people.
"At that hour we saw the worst of mankind," Gov. George Pataki said. "We saw the face of evil."
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told the crowd to look to the victims "for our inspiration and our sense of purpose. They would want us to lift up our heads very, very high."
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios asked God to "remember those who six months ago were taken from us, from this very place, in a most cruel and exceedingly painful way."
Church bells rang across the city, and the names of the 23 police officers killed were read aloud at police precincts.
"They were called on to act and did so with the highest valor," said Capt. David Barrere outside the 76th Precinct in Brooklyn.
The 343 firefighters killed in the trade center were honored, too, with a bell-ringing at the morning service. Guests, including many victims' relatives, were given yellow daffodils.
"The Sphere" was gashed and partially crushed by falling debris. The sculpture was created in 1971 by artist Fritz Koenig and dedicated as a monument to world peace through international trade.
"It survived the collapse of the twin towers, as did the idea that catalyzed its creation: a peaceful world based on trade and the free movement of people and ideas," Bloomberg said. "This is just a temporary memorial. ... The real memorial will be in our hearts."
The names of the victims from the trade center, the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania were read aloud at St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan. The church was a relief center after the attack, and still serves breakfast to recovery workers digging through the rubble.
Across the city, at a Queens church, hundreds of firefighters attended the funeral of Richard D. Allen. The Fire Department has held 148 funerals in the six months since the attack.
On Sunday, search crews found a battered fire engine in the rubble at ground zero, nearly six months to the day after its final run.
Engine 55 firefighters managed to pry a crumpled door off the rig and add it to a memorial near the front of their firehouse in Manhattan's Little Italy. Five of their own died Sept. 11.
"That was the rig the guys went there in," firefighter John Olivero said. "That was their last ride."
At ground zero, work stopped during the moments of silence. Among those looking on nearby were Harlan and Diane Kirschner of Los Angeles. They found solace in the expressions of sympathy from other visitors.
"For so much evil that hit, there's a lot of love around," Diane Kirschner said. "That's what I think of when I look."
Ironworker Anthony Esola said he finished a three-month stint at ground zero in January but felt he had to return for the lighting ceremony.
"The job's still not done. I still have a lot of my brothers working in there, and I have some sort of attachment to the site," Esola said.
He gazed toward ground zero and said: "I wish I was still in there."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.