In New York and Washington – the two cities hit hardest by the 2001 terrorist attacks – hundreds gathered, cheering, crying, singing and chanting as President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden.
Firefighters from Engine Company 54, which lost more than a dozen members on 9/11, stood atop a truck in the middle of Times Square, leading the celebration and accepting congratulations.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of emotions going. Shock. Disbelief. Our thoughts go out to the families of those that lost loved ones,” said Patrice McLeod of Engine 54.
The crowd numbers peaked well after midnight, with many expressing hope that Mr bin Laden’s death would hasten the end to a decade of war. “That’s the face of 9/11,” said Aaron Malson, an army reservist who is heading to Afghanistan in June. “I think that us taking out Osama will push forward the withdrawal.”
Sheryl Lebakken, who said her son had served two tours of duty with the US military in Iraq, stood sobbing outside the White House. “It validates what my son went to fight for and stand up for and represent our country for,” she said.
The crowds were overwhelmingly young – most were children when the terrorist attacks of September 2001 struck New York, Washington and downed another passenger jet in Pennsylvania – and the several-hundred-strong celebration outside the White House was the biggest since the inauguration of Mr Obama two years ago.
Christopher Diz, an 19-year-old from Queens, said the news of bin Laden’s death brought back memories of his two firefighter uncles who died during the attacks. His father still suffers from lung problems from sifting through the collapsed buildings. “This helps a lot,” he said. “This is a day of justice for all the sons and daughters who lost parents that day.”
In Washington, police and secret service agents initially kept a distance as students waved flags and climbed railings by the White House, shouting, over and over again, “USA! USA!” By 1.30am, though, they moved in to manage the crowd, whose numbers continued to swell long after Mr Obama’s announcement.
One attendee, dressed in full Spiderman costume, climbed one of the streetlamps just outside the White House fence to drape an American flag from the top, to tumultuous cheers from below.
Although the crowd repeatedly broke into chants of “four more years” and “Obama”, the mood was generally celebratory rather than partisan, and the small contingent of attendees with “Bush-Cheney” placards mingled happily with the larger number carrying “Obama-Biden” banners.
Kaitlyn Martin, the 20-year-old chairwoman of the Republican student organisation at George Washington University, just a few blocks from the White House, said that both former president George W. Bush and Mr Obama deserved credit for Bin Laden’s capture. “I don’t think that Obama will take all the credit for this,” Ms Martin said. “I hope the events of today help to remind people that Bush was an exceptional president.”
Lily Grove, a property manager, visiting Washington from Salt Lake City, had no doubt, nonetheless, that the current president would be credited. “I think it means four more years for President Obama,” she said. Erin Vick, a 20-year-old student, said she had skipped studying for her final exams to come and celebrate. “I think his presidential poll numbers will sky rocket,” she said happily.
“I came down here because America’s…awesome. We’ve finally gotten it down,” said Gabriel Mariani, 19, one of many students from the Catholic University of America in Washington.
David Silverman, a 27-year-old government employee, was more thoughtful but still defiant. “It’s the way it should be,” he said. “If you attack America you’re gonna get whacked. I think it goes a long way to restoring deterrence for the country.”
“It’s pretty cool. It’s redemption, huh?” said Alex Ares, a former member of the air force who had dashed to the site in Manhattan where the World Trade Center used to stand.
“We really wanted to celebrate tonight. This is a great moment of closure,” said Gerasimos Vlachos, a student who was waving a Stars and Stripes flag with an image of Marilyn Monroe outside the site.
Sprinkled among the celebrations were visitors from other countries. Leonid Volkov, a 30-year-old Russian on an internship in Washington, said he hoped it would change global security for the better. “If I’d be president of the United States tomorrow I would cancel airport security – just for one day,” he said with a beaming smile.
Reporting by Tom Braithwaite and Alan Beattie in Washington and Alan Rappeport and Barney Jopson in New York
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