Tragedy begins to hit closer to home

Dozen Marylanders or more among dead

Terrorism Strikes America


September 13, 2001|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

For Marylanders struggling to cope, the horror of terrorist attacks became even more real yesterday as identities of innocent local people -- including a Walters Art Museum guide and a middle school teacher from Columbia -- emerged in the lengthy lists of the dead.

The identifications came as Maryland's political leaders, transportation officials, police officers, business owners and others attempted to return the state to normality after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history sent a wave of shock around the country.

A state of emergency remained in effect yesterday in Maryland. Frustrated travelers waited in vain at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, courthouses were occasionally evacuated for bomb threats and the Coast Guard shut down boating in the Inner Harbor.

But the worst tales of all came from friends and families remembering the victims.

Among those on board American Airlines Flight 77, which made a fiery plunge into the Pentagon, was Sara M. Clark, 65, a 31-year teaching veteran who was making a cross-country trip with colleagues and several children from Bertie Backus Middle School in Washington.

"I was holding out against hope that if the plane did go into the Pentagon, that perhaps she had survived," said John Milton Wesley, the teacher's boyfriend and a spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. "She had planned to retire next year."

The death of Clark, her colleagues and the children -- the number and identities of whom are unknown -- are among the most poignant yet in Tuesday's devastating attacks in New York and suburban Washington.

At least a dozen Marylanders are known to have died, and the local toll is likely to grow.

Renee May, 39, a flight attendant from South Baltimore who volunteered at the Walters Art Museum, was working on Flight 77.

"I'm very upset to know that she's dead," said Amy Huntoon, a fellow Walters docent. "This story touches you in so many ways."

Neighbors on the street of well-kept rowhouses where May had lived for about five years learned of her death yesterday and last night, and they were stunned by the news. "I almost died; I couldn't believe," said Sharon Mondshour, who lives across the street from May's home. "The whole thing's horrible. When you find out it was your neighbor, it makes it worse."

John Shields, director of the docent program at the Walters, said that a friend of May's told members of the docent program that she was able to call her family in Nevada on her cellular phone after the hijackers took control of the jetliner.

From all walks of life

Victims seemed to come from all walks of life. Missing in the World Trade Center attacks is John P. O'Neill, a former top national security investigator for the FBI who served in the Baltimore office early in his career.

O'Neill, 49, began work as the trade center's chief of security a week ago and was on the job Tuesday when the two planes hit the twin towers, said Robert Blitzer, a close friend who had worked with O'Neill at the FBI's Washington headquarters.

In recent years, O'Neill's expertise in counterterrorism and national security issues put him at the center of such high-profile cases as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1998 terrorist attacks at U.S. embassies in Africa and last year's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

"He was so bright, so hardworking, so conscientious," said Dana Caro, a retired FBI official who oversaw the Baltimore office from 1981 to 1983. "He led by example."

Also among those killed aboard Flight 77 was Michelle Heidenberger, 57, a 25-year flight attendant from Chevy Chase known to friends for her work with the elderly, as well as a Georgetown University professor, her husband and their two young daughters. The professor's family was en route to Australia for a long-awaited family move.

The public policy professor, Leslie A. Whittington, 45, and her husband, Charles S. Falkenberg, told friends that they were looking forward to Whittington's working as a visiting fellow at Australian National University. While there, the family, from University Park in Prince George's County, was hoping to see kangaroos, koalas, scorpions and other wildlife.

University Park residents planted flowers at the local elementary school and created a makeshift shrine to honor the family. A few blocks away, Peg Neff waited with dwindling hope for word of the fate of her longtime partner, Sheila Hein, also of University Park.

Hein, a civilian Defense Department employee, had not been heard from since the hijacked plane carrying the Falkenberg-Whittington family crashed into her Pentagon workplace.

University Park Mayor John L. Brunner sat in his office yesterday contemplating the melancholy coincidence of two households in a town of only 2,300 being on opposite ends of the same tragedy.

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