For Amanda Ray, a teacher at Bakerfield Elementary School in Aberdeen, Sunday was her first time marking the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks without her family. The Long Island, N.Y., native usually visits the memorial at the site of the World Trade Center in New York, where her aunt perished along with more than 2,000 others 15 years ago.
"She was never found and the phone never rang," Ray recalled about her aunt, Jill Metzler, who was 32 when she was working on the 92nd floor of the ill-fated South Tower.
Sunday morning, Ray joined fellow Harford County Public Schools employee Emily Batten and dozens of others for a Sept. 11 ceremony at Fallston United Methodist Church.
The church invited first responders to its worship services. In between the services, the congregation gathered at its new flagpole, an Eagle Scout project by Alex Louderback, to raise the flag at 9:59 a.m., when the second tower fell.
The Eagle Scout dedicated "the flagpole to all the survivors and friends and families of 9/11." His fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 899, which is based out of the church, saluted as the flag was raised to half-staff.
The Rev. Karin Walker read a prayer for peace on the 15th anniversary of the somber day "that changed forever the way that every one of us lives our lives."
"We are grateful for the men and women who were part of that recovery effort and who saved so many lives by walking into the fire and walking toward the fire rather than away," she said.
Walker recognized the "2,996 people who died that day and the friends and families who continue to mourn their loss."
After her prayer, the church bell rang as the congregation stood silently, the new flag waving briskly on the breezy morning under a blue, cloud-filled sky.
"It's kind of a unique thing because it fell on Sunday," Steve Jenness, a church usher and Scout parent, said about the 9/11 anniversary this year.
He said Louderback spent two weekends out in front of the church, working on the flagpole, which is in a stone circle surrounded by landscaping with flowers and a small banner reading "America: God Shed His Grace on Thee."
In the church service after the ceremony, numerous people were wearing patriotic shirts honoring first responders and remembering the terror attacks.
Emily Batten, a psychologist at Fallston Middle and High schools, visited the New York memorial this summer and felt equally strange about being at a site commemorating a historic tragedy that she personally lived through.
"Being at the memorial, it's weird," Batten said. She came to the Fallston Methodist Church ceremony because she was acquainted with Alex Louderback, and she had invited her friend, Amanda Ray.
Ray, who lives in Baltimore and previously taught at Emmorton and Joppatowne elementary schools, became emotional as she remembered being in 10th grade in her Long Island classroom in 2001, on the day her aunt was in the South Tower.