By Jennifer Barrios and Anthony M. Destefano Long Island Newsday
Noelle Maerz was born seven weeks after the World Trade Center towers fell. She didn’t know her father, a bond broker from Long Beach who died on 9/11.
Up until last year, the 11-year-old had refused to attend the solemn ceremony at Ground Zero marking the anniversary of the terror attacks.
“She was afraid that something was going to happen to her,” said her grandfather Ralph Maerz, 68, of Fort Myers, Fla., who came to lower Manhattan to pay tribute to his lost son.
But when her father’s name was called on the 12th anniversary of his death, Noelle spoke to him in front of thousands gathered at the National September 11 Memorial Plaza. “Thank you for giving me such a wonderful life,” she said. “I wish you were here to share with me and Mommy.”
The roll call of victims, nearly 3,000 in all, lasted about four hours as families embraced by the memorial’s reflecting pools and tearfully remembered loved ones.
A bell tolled at 8:46 a.m. — marking when the first hijacked plane slammed into the north tower — and the ceremony didn’t end until early afternoon. Through it all, mourners cried, first responders embraced, and people shared stories of sacrifice and survival.
Nearly 500 of those killed that morning at Ground Zero were from Long Island.
Like so many others, the remains of Noelle’s father have not been found, the family said. Noell Maerz, 29, who worked on the 84th floor of the south tower, simply disappeared.
Rosemary Cain of Massapequa, who lost her son — FDNY firefighter George Cain, 35 — attended the ceremony with about 10 friends.
“It is a very sacred place for me,” she said of Ground Zero. “It is hallowed ground. I feel 3,000 souls are here.”
Out of the ashes, a rebirth is nearly complete. The memorial plaza is now flanked by the gleaming, 1,776-foot-high 1 World Trade Center, formerly called the Freedom Tower, and the smaller 4 World Trade Center, which opens in November.
At 8:39 a.m., the ceremony began with bagpipers and drummers from the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police, agencies that saw heavy casualties on 9/11. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus performed the national anthem.
Across the city, fire and police department units lined up outside their commands to observe a moment of silence.
The ceremony paused at six key moments: twice to mark when each plane hit the towers; twice to mark when each tower fell; once to mark the attack on the Pentagon; and a final time to mark the crash of Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania.
One of those present for the roll call was Linda Amato, 49, whose brother, NYPD Sgt. Timothy Roy Sr. of Massapequa Park, died after rushing to the towers from Brooklyn that morning.
The two were the youngest of eight children and spent their childhood and adulthood as best friends — even taking vacations together with their families.
“It still hurts to hear his name,” said Amato, of Massapequa Park, who wore a bright yellow T-shirt emblazoned with her brother’s picture.
“We’ve been here every year since the first anniversary,” said her husband, Chris Amato. “As a family, no matter what’s going on in your lives, we have to take this day out of our lives to honor Timmy.”
It was the second commemoration without speeches by politicians, but many of them attended. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo arrived as part of a motorcycle contingent and Michael Bloomberg attended for the last time as mayor.
Also at the ceremony were Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Bill de Blasio, top vote-getter in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for mayor.
“I see those 8-year-old kids, now 20 years old, and remember their faces when they were kids at the funerals, struggling,” said Thomas Von Essen, who was fire commissioner on 9/11.
“I see them now and they are grown. They have handled it, and I see hope in their faces.”
With William Murphy, John Valenti, Deon J. Hampton, Chau Lam and Maria Alvarez
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated that Noelle Maerz had never attended the 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero.