190 presumed dead, Pentagon says

Earlier estimates said up to 800 were lost

7 Marylanders missing

Little hope of survivors seen

Terrorism Strikes America


September 14, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman and Jackie Powder | Ellen Gamerman and Jackie Powder,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said yesterday that about 190 people are missing and presumed dead in Tuesday's terrorist attack, putting a number on the tragedy for the first time. At least seven Maryland residents are among those thought to have perished.

In its first official estimate, the Pentagon said 126 men and women in the building at the time are thought to have died, in addition to 64 people killed when the hijacked American Airlines jet on which they were flying crashed into the building.

If accurate, the toll would exceed the 168 deaths in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until Tuesday, when hijacked airliners plowed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

But the estimate is well below some reported earlier, which ranged up to 800. The Pentagon, which listed victims as missing, said it will not release a casualty list until it identifies all those unaccounted for. But officials held out little hope for survivors.

The Army reported 74 people missing, more than any other branch of the service. Officials said 21 were soldiers, 47 civilians and six Army contractors. The service has not released victims' names, but officials confirmed privately that Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude, chief of Army personnel, is among the missing.

The Navy reported losing 42 people - 33 sailors and nine civilians. The Marine Corps and Air Force reported no losses. Other defense agencies said a total of 10 people were unaccounted for.

The bodies of roughly two-thirds of the victims have been removed from the Pentagon.

Seven Maryland residents were among those reported missing by the Navy - three active-duty sailors, one civilian employee and three contractors.

They are:

Kris Romeo Bishundat, 23, of Waldorf, an information systems technician second class; Lt. j.g. Darin Howard Pontell, 26, of Columbia; Lt. Cmdr. Ronald James Vauk, 37, of Mount Airy; Angela Houtz, 27, of La Plata, a civilian employee; Julian Cooper, 39, of Springdale, a contractor; Jerry Moran, 39, of Upper Marlboro, a contractor; and Marvin Woods, 58, of Great Mills, a contractor.

With the fire out except for occasional flare-ups, and workers attempting to stabilize the building, more of the Pentagon's 23,000 employees returned to work yesterday. The nation's military headquarters continued to function at its highest state of alert.

"We're operating on the assumption that we haven't seen the last of these criminals and that there may be things anticipated, planned, as part of this operation," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told reporters. "We continue to be on our guard against a number of possibilities."

Rescue workers, meanwhile, continued to retrieve the charred remains of the victims, which were dispatched by helicopter to the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where coroners began trying to make identifications through fingerprints and dental records, officials said.

Hope that anyone would be found alive continued to fade as scores of friends and relatives of the missing listened to somber briefings by military personnel at a hotel in Northern Virginia where the Pentagon has established a makeshift gathering place.

"The question that came up a lot in this briefing was that people are seeing reports from neighbors and friends that there are injured in hospitals right now who don't know who they are," said Maj. Ben Owens, a Defense Department spokesman. "Some people were really hoping someone had suffered with amnesia, but at this point there are no such cases out there."

To help cope with the trauma, some family members have asked to visit the crash site, but it remains sealed off. Others cannot stop reliving their haunting memories of the attack.

"I heard a ring, and then I heard a boom," said Andrea Doctor, recounting her last phone call to her husband, Johnnie Doctor Jr., just before the plane hit the building. "I loved my husband. He was a fighter."

Some emerged shaken after hearing how pessimistic the Pentagon personnel sounded about the chances of a miracle discovery of survivors.

"We were still keeping hope alive that he'll come up out of those ashes," said Coven Baumgardner, who accompanied Doctor's wife to the victim assistance center. "But at the briefing, it didn't look hopeful."

Hundreds of people filtered through the hotel in what turned into a wrenching procession of grief. Two women entered the hotel holding each other and sobbing. A man came with his hat in his hands. A child followed his relatives, clutching a teddy bear.

"I believe that since she has passed, she'll be in a better place," said Oscar White, who came to the hotel seeking information about his wife, Sandra, a civilian working for the Army who disappeared in the blast.

"Her two sons went to school today because that's what she would have wanted," he said. "She is the heart and soul of our family."

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