Flag-waving Washingtonians flocked to the White House after learning of Osama bin Laden's death, cheering and chanting "USA, USA."
Into the early morning hours Sunday night and all afternoon Monday, thousands of revelers from across the world rushed to Pennsylvania Avenue overjoyed that the mastermind of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history had been killed by American forces.
Several military veterans in the crowd called bin Laden's death "gratifying."
"This is why we were there," said Army Spc. Steven Downey, 24. He joined the Army while still in high school and served in Iraq.
Washingtonians waving flags and blaring their horns punctuated a typically quiet Sunday night as some climbed to the top of trees and lampposts to bask in the historic scene.
A group of George Washington University students said they spent more than two hours along the White House fence.
"You push everything aside to celebrate history in the making," senior Stephanie Garcia said.
For the exuberant crowd, it was an unexpected end to the decade-long search for bin Laden.
Emily Warren, of the District, said she grew doubtful that American forces would ever catch him.
"It's amazing to think it's been a decade," she said. "I'm not going to lie -- I thought we weren't going to get Osama. Justice was served."
Many in the crowd were dressed in red, white and blue, painted their faces or wore Uncle Sam hats. Area residents also toted signs declaring "Osama bin Gotten" and "A happy Muslim."
Strangers burst together into song that could be heard from blocks away, some joining hands, as they belted "America the Beautiful," the National Anthem and "Hey, Hey Goodbye."
That community reaction is why Manassas residents Carol Estep and Jairo Flores made the trip to D.C. They saw the White House crowd on the news after watching President Obama's speech.
"We just wanted to be a part of it," Estep said.
Alexandria resident Elizabeth Hessman went to the White House with her husband and brother -- and the flag her family placed in their front window on Sept. 11.
"This is the day we've been waiting for, to take it down," she said.
After joining the throngs of celebrators Sunday night, Derek Rowland, returned again Monday morning to the White House and a leveled-off crowd.
"History smacked me right in the face," said Rowland, visiting D.C. for the first time from Los Angeles. "It was almost like fate. I'm part of it. It's unbelievable."
The White House gates greeted tourists on the unusual Monday morning.
"It's something to tell my kids," said Kristian Wilkins, who was a few weeks into a visit from England. "It's one of those things -- where were you when bin Laden died? I was in Washington."
But Dawn Cooley, who was chaperoning 164 foreign exchange touring the city for the week students from Michigan, said she was worried about retaliation: "It's not everybody. It's one person. It's not like all of Al Qaeda is gone now."
In New York, Ground Zero was transformed for the first time in a decade from a somber city block to site of celebration as women waved flags, familes camped overnight, and a man flagged a cardboard sign reading, "Obama 1, Osama 0." As a New York Fire Department SUV sounded its siren through Times Square, dozens broke into applause and sang, "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Some joined the military in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, such as Lance Cpl. Justin Kirchmeyer, who returned from Iraq last year.
"Today -- it means everything to me, absolutely everything," he said, as he was mobbed by dozens of supporters outside the White House who wanted to thank him for his service. "This is validation for so many people. There's no way to overstate the meaning of today. This is a day for the history books."
Staff writers Alex Pappas and Lisa Gartner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.