Photos, flags and flowers as grief focuses on London US embassy

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The Independent Online

They were people clinging to the symbols of a shattered country and the lives of the dead and missing.

They were people clinging to the symbols of a shattered country and the lives of the dead and missing. They held American flags, they held photos of their loved ones, or they just held hands.

In three days, 15,000 people came to the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, London to sign condolence books, lay flowers and messages, and reflect. Some came to try to make sense of it, some because they didn't know what else to do, most because they just had to.

Americans and Britons walked silently around the ever-growing mounds of flowers, pausing to read cards or stand next to the statue of Franklin D Roosevelt on his plinth of flowers, teddy bears and baseball caps.

"It seemed a fitting thing to do, to pay tribute to those fellow Americans who lost their lives," said Bennett Richard, an oil man from Houston, Texas. He was stranded in London waiting for a flight home. "We cannot do very much to help them in New York City, but at least this is something. I seem to be in a safer place here, but I want to be back on American soil again."

Many Americans living in the UK or visiting have taken part in the procession which has been weaving through the square. One of the US embassy staff said: "Thousands and thousands of people have come in. It's amazing. The line never goes down. Others have just stopped to leave flowers, sometimes in the middle of the night. One guy stopped off in a black cab last night and handed in a bunch of flowers to the police at the gates."

Hundreds of cards left by Americans expressed shock and sadness, but many were messages of defiance. One, signed simply "from Alison", said: "My heart is with all my fellow Americans. We will get through this together. Be strong." That spirit of solidarity was clear too from the huge numbers of British people who went to the embassy to pay their respects.

A message card read: "Your pain is our pain. Your loss is our loss."

Barbara Sargeant, 53, from Southgate, London, came to the memorial with her family. "If I could have thought of something else to do, I would have done it, but I felt that it was something in my heart that was a positive gesture."

Mrs Sargeant, who has family in the Bronx, added: "These people were waking up minus children and husbands, and they have to live. They have to carry on. Since it happened, I have not been able to sleep. I just keep thinking – what if it had happened to us?"