New Yorkers Gather At Ground Zero

Hundreds of people gathered in New York City at the site of the former World Trade Center. The site's twin towers fell nearly 10 years ago on Sept. 11.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As we've been reporting this morning, 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden is dead. He was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan.

President Obama announced his death late last evening. NPR's Robert Smith is at Ground Zero in New York City and joins us now on the line. And Robert, we have been seeing the crowds converging all night on Ground Zero. You've been there much of that time. Who are the people who are there with you?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, at one point there was more than a thousand of them. Some of them were hanging off of street lights. They were chanting and singing patriotic songs. You know, a lot of people who came out were young people, and this really amazed me, because when I talked to them, they've lived most of their lives with the sort of specter of 9/11 over them.

To them, like Osama bin Laden is the personification of evil, and has been for most of their lives. And so they came out here with this sense of just relief and victory.

I spoke to one young man, Alex Trentnor(ph), he's 19 years old.

Mr. ALEX TRENTNOR: I was watching a baseball game in my room, and they interrupted the baseball game saying Osama's dead. And I just started screaming with my roommate. I was with my roommate. We hugged. And we were just running up and down the hallway of my dorm room.

SMITH: And you thought, I'm gonna come down to Ground Zero?

Mr. TRENTNOR: Instantly. I was like I have to come down here, I have to get down here. So we ran out, got on the subway, got down here. We took a tour...

MONTAGNE: He is - Robert, he's very emotional. A young man, very emotional about this.

SMITH: And that's the - and that's the amazing thing, is - is this guy was yelling and screaming. He's about six foot three, but as soon as I started asking him about 9/11, I mean, the tears just welled up in his eyes. He was so overcome, and you saw that all - all night long.

All through the early morning hours people would be chanting, they'd be screaming U.S.A., U.S.A., Obama, Obama. And then they would just have this quiet moment where they would reflect, and some of them would cry. It's such a - it's so fraught here, we're right next to Ground Zero. You know, we're right next to the site where all these people died.

And so people want to have a party, they want to celebrate, but there's this reminder that's sitting there right in front of us.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course a party and celebration with the death of - right there at Ground Zero that happened on 9/11, and also the death of - it's a death, right? It's Osama bin Laden. What else are people telling you?

SMITH: Well, you know, it's funny. I spoke with the young people, but when you talk to some of the older people, they really were a lot more reflective about this. You have to remember, for the last 10 years, there hasn't been a celebratory event here at Ground Zero. Every event has been so somber, so quiet, so sad.

And, you know, I spoke to one woman, her name is Stephanie Zessa(ph), she works with the fire department. She's not a fire fighter, but she works in the offices there, and she had volunteered at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks, and here's what she had to say.

Ms. STEPHANIE ZESSA: I'm not celebrating death, I'm celebrating the end of the life of a murderer.

MONTAGNE: So as she said, it's a death of a murderer. And Robert, we will be talking to you, of course, throughout the morning. In the hours to come people will be going to work and finding out what they to say. Thank you very much. NPR's Robert Smith.

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