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Hundreds of jubilant people streamed to the spot where the World Trade Center fell almost 10 years ago, waving American flags, snapping pictures and breaking into song early Monday to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden with the boisterous enthusiasm of a Times Square New Year’s Eve crowd.
Many waved American flags or took pictures. One man climbed a light pole and waved the American flag to cheers below while others broke into song with renditions of “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
It was easily the happiest crowd ever at a site where more familiar scenes are bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” and solemn speeches memorializing the dead during annual anniversary ceremonies in the decade since the terrorist attacks.
Stephanie Zessos, who lives in the neighborhood and works for the fire department, said sadness also was mixed in with the celebration.
“I texted a friend of mine who’s a firefighter who lost a brother on 9/11, and he said the pain will never go away,” she said.
Guy Madsen, 49, of Clifton, N.J., drove to the city with his son when he heard of bin Laden’s death.
“It’s really a terrific day for not just America but for the world. To have this cancer pulled from us is the right thing,” Madsen said.
“This is Judgment Day and we’re winning.”
Farther uptown in Times Square, dozens stood together on the clear spring night and broke into applause when a New York Fire Department SUV drove by, flashed its lights and sounded its siren. A man held an American flag and others sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
And in Washington, D.C., a large group gathered in front of the White House, chanting “USA! USA!” and waving American flags. The throng had filled the street in front and was spilling into Lafayette Park.
Will Ditto, 25, a legislative aide, said he was getting ready to go to bed Sunday night when his mom called him with the news. He decided to leave his home on Capitol Hill and join the crowd. As he rode the subway to the White House, he told fellow passengers the news.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s a great day to be an American.”
George Washington University student Alex Washofsky, 20, and his roommate Dan Fallon, 20, joined the crowd.
“George Bush said, `Bring him to justice, dead or alive,’ and we did it,” said Washofsky, a junior and a member of the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The crowd began gathering before President Barack Obama addressed the nation at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday. By midnight, people had filled a street directly in front of the White House and the celebration was spilling over into Lafayette Park to the north.
Some people sprinted up on foot to join the crowd. Others arrived on bicycles, and some people brought dogs.
American flags of all sizes were being held aloft, worn draped over the shoulders or gripped by many hands for a group wave. Some people climbed trees and lampposts to better display the flags they carried. Others without flags simply pumped their fists in the air.
The impromptu street party took on aspects of a pep rally, at times. Some people offered up the “hey, hey, good-bye” sing-song chant more typically used to send defeated teams off to their locker rooms. And Parth Chauhan, 20, a sophomore at George Washington University, trumpeted a vuvuzela.
In Dearborn, Mich., a, heavily Middle Eastern suburb that’s home to one of the nation’s largest Arab and Muslim communities, a small crowd gathered outside City Hall, chanting “USA” and waving American flags.
Across town, some honked their car horns as they drove along the main street where most of the Arab-American restaurants and shops are located.
At the Arabica Cafe, the big screen TVs that normally show sports were all turned to news about bin Laden.
Cafe manager Mohamed Kobeissi says it’s finally justice for those victims.
In Philadelphia, at a game between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, chants of “USA! USA!” began in the top of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Fans could be seen all over the stadium checking their phones and sharing the news.
Shirley Miller watched a headline flip across a monitor in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport before her daughter and husband texted her with the same news: Bin Laden was dead.
But for the 42-year-old Miller, whose son has deployed twice to Afghanistan following 9/11, the news didn’t soothe worries that bin Laden’s death could prompt more attacks against the U.S.
“OK. He’s dead, but now what?” Miller asked as she flew from Chicago to Little Rock, Ark.
“It’s kind of scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It could get worse.”
Miller hopes that bin Laden’s death means a reprieve for the nation’s servicemen and women — including her son, 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Kyle Miller, whom she was visiting this weekend in New Jersey.
She was headed home to Cabot, Ark., Sunday night after seeing the Statue of Liberty and New York for the first time this weekend.
Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, which crashed into a field near rural Shanksville, Pa., called the announcement of Bin Laden’s death “important news for us, and for the world.”
He said in a statement that “It cannot ease our pain, or bring back our loved ones” but does bring “a measure of comfort.”
Associated Press writers Tom McElroy in New York City, Jessica Gresko in Washington, Jeannie Nuss in Chicago and Jeff Karoub in Dearborn, Mich., contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press