Americans gather joyfully to mark bin Laden's death

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Jason DeCrow/AP

A large, jubilant crowd reacts to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, adjacent to ground zero, during the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 2, 2011 in New York.

Joyous at the release of a decade's frustration, Americans streamed to the site of the World Trade Center, the gates of the White House and smaller but no less jubilant gatherings across the nation to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden - cheering, waving flags and belting the national anthem.

Ground zero, more familiar these past 10 years for bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" and solemn speeches and arguments over what to build to honor the Sept. 11 dead, became, for the first time, a place of revelry.

"We've been waiting a long time for this day," Lisa Ramaci, a New Yorker whose husband was a freelance journalist killed in the Iraq war, said early Monday. "I think it's a relief for New York tonight just in the sense that we had this 10 years of frustration just building and building, wanting this guy dead, and now he is, and you can see how happy people are."

She was holding a flag and wearing a T-shirt depicting the twin towers and, in crosshairs, bin Laden. Nearby, a man held up a cardboard sign that read, "Obama 1, Osama 0."

Dionne Layne, 44, of Stamford, Conn., spent the entire night at ground zero with her two children, ages 9 and 11. "They can't get this in a history class," she said. "They have to be a part of this."

Layne said she witnessed the second tower come down on Sept. 11 from Brooklyn, where she lived at the time.

Uptown in Times Square, dozens stood together on a 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."

On an overcast morning in Shanksville, Pa., where a hijacked plane apparently meant for Washington crashed in a field after passengers fought back, a few visitors gathered Monday at the fence-lined overlook that serves as a temporary memorial while a permanent one is built.

"I thought of Sept. 11 and the people lost," said Daniel Pyle, 33, of Shanksville, who stopped at the site on his way to work at a lawn care company. "I wanted to pay homage to the people lost that day. I think this brings a little bit of closure."

In Washington, in front of the White House, a crowd began gathering before President Barack Obama addressed the nation late Sunday to declare, "Justice has been done." The throng grew, and within a half-hour had filled the street in front of the White House and begun spilling into Lafayette Park.

"It's not over, but it's one battle that's been won, and it's a big one," said Marlene English, who lives in Arlington, Va., and lobbies on defense issues. She said she has baked thousands of cookies to send to friends serving in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years and that she was at the White House because they couldn't be.

The celebrations began to come together late Sunday, after Americans began hearing about the death of bin Laden from bulletins on television, texts and calls from family and friends, and posts on social networking sites.

Bin Laden was slain in his luxury hideout in Pakistan in a firefight with American forces. Obama said no Americans had been harmed in the operation.

Even before the president made the official announcement, news of bin Laden's death filtered across the country. As the New York Mets played the Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia, chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" began in the top of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Fans all over the stadium checked their phones and shared the news.

That chant - "U-S-A! U-S-A!" - echoed in Dearborn, Mich., a heavily Middle Eastern suburb of Detroit, where a small crowd gathered outside City Hall and waved 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, big-screen TVs that normally show sports were all turned to news about bin Laden. The manager there, Mohamed Kobeissi, said it was finally justice for the victims.

There were smaller, spontaneous gatherings around the nation - a handful of Idahoans who made their way to the state Capitol in downtown Boise, a small group that waved flags and cheered on an Interstate 5 overpass south of Seattle known as Freedom Bridge.

People said they were surprised that bin Laden had finally been found and killed. John Gocio, a doctor from Arkansas who was gathering what details he could from TV screens at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, marveled: "After such a long time, you kind of give up and say, `Well, that's never going to happen.'"

The celebration in New York came precisely one year after a militant from Connecticut spread panic by driving a bomb-laden SUV into the heart of Times Square. As the most intense manhunt in history wore on, year after year after 9/11, the city dealt with smaller scares - the Times Square plot, subway and bridge threats, orange alerts.

Over that same decade, the city has lived on with the pain from the day itself, more distant but never erased. Stephanie Zessos, who lives in the neighborhood and works for the fire department, said sadness also was mixed in with the late-night 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.

After hearing of bin Laden's death, Mike Low, of Batesville, Ark., sat down in his daughter's bedroom in front of a glass case holding her remains and shared the news. The daughter, Sara, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center.

He described his reaction as mixed - satisfaction for the loved ones left behind but continuing pain over his daughter's death.

"This is something we struggle with and will the rest of our lives," said Low, 67.

With final exams looming, thousands of Penn State University students gathered in State College, Pa., the student newspaper reported. One was dressed as Captain America, fireworks were set off and colorful chants rose up from the crowd. At Ohio State University, some students, including the student body president, jumped into a lake on campus to celebrate, according to The Lantern newspaper.

At the White House, Will Ditto, a 25-year-old legislative aide, said he was getting ready to go to bed when his mother 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."

American flags of all sizes were 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, goodbye" singsong chant more typically used to send defeated teams off to their locker rooms. Parth Chauhan, a sophomore at George Washington University, trumpeted a World Cup-style vuvuzela.

GW student Alex Washofsky, 20, and his roommate Dan Fallon, 20, joined the crowd. Washofsky, a junior and a member of the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps, recalled the day shortly after Sept. 11 when President George W. Bush evoked the phrase from "Wanted" posters in the old West, "dead or alive."

"And we did it," Washofsky said.

Associated Press writers Tom McElroy in New York City, Jessica Gresko in Washington, Genaro C. Armas in Shanksville, Pa., Nomaan Merchant in Little Rock, Ark., Jeannie Nuss in Chicago and Jeff Karoub in Dearborn, Mich., contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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