NEW YORK (AP) - Wanda Ortiz understands why fewer people turned out at memorial services honoring the victims of 9/11 on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
But for her, the ceremonies are comforting. Her twin daughters, Amanda and Emily, were 5 months old when their father, Emilio Ortiz, was killed in the north tower of the World Trade Center,. At Tuesday's ground zero service in New York, Amanda did the reading for the family.
Ortiz said she knows the ceremonies have less impact on people who did not lose someone in the tragedy, but she doesn't resent that.
"It's human nature, so people move on," said Ortiz, of Queens. "My concern now is ... how I keep the memory of my husband alive."
There were tearful messages to loved ones, moments of silence and other rituals that have come to define the annual ceremonies. But Americans appeared to have entered a new, scaled-back chapter of collective mourning for the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
Crowds gathered, as always, at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania memorial to mourn the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks. But they came in fewer numbers, ceremonies were less elaborate and some cities chose not to hold remembrances at all this year.
A year after the milestone 10th anniversary, some said the memorials may have reached an emotional turning point.
In Middletown, N.J., a bedroom community that lost 37 residents in the attacks, town officials laid a wreath at the entrance to a park in a small, silent ceremony. Last year, 3,700 people attended a remembrance with speeches, music and names read.
"This year," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Massell, "I think less is more."
This year also was one when politicians largely took a back seat to grieving families; no elected officials spoke at New York's 3 1/2-hour ceremony. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pulled negative campaign ads and avoided rallies, with the president laying a wreath at the Pentagon ceremony and visiting wounded soldiers at a Maryland hospital.
Vice President Joe Biden remembered the 40 victims of the plane that crashed in a field south of Pittsburgh, saying 11 years haven't diminished memories.
Some worried that moving on would mean Sept. 11 will fade from memory.
"It's been 11 years already," said Michael Reneo, whose sister-in-law, Daniela Notaro, was killed at the trade center. "And unfortunately for some, the reality of this day seems to be fading as the years go by. ... I hope we never lose focus on what really happened here."
Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years, including last year's 10th anniversary. In lower Manhattan, a crowd of fewer than 200 swelled to about 1,000 by late Tuesday morning. A few hundred attended ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., fewer than in years past.
Some cities changed the way they remembered. The New York City suburb of Glen Rock, N.J., where 11 victims lived, did not hold an organized memorial for the first time in a decade.
"It was appropriate for this year _ not that the losses will ever be forgotten," said Brad Jordan, chairman of a Glen Rock community group that helps victims' families. "But we felt it was right to shift the balance a bit from the observance of loss to a commemoration of how the community came together to heal."
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Alex Katz in New York, Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J., Katie Zezima in Middletown, N.J., Steven R. Hurst in Washington, Joe Mandak in Shanksville, Pa., Brock Vergakis in Norfolk, Va., and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.
Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)