Reflections from the Lowcountry: For some in Lowcountry, bin Laden's death is personal

Rob Concannon

A daughter was in grade school when her dad died in one of the planes.

A Navy captain was on his way to the Pentagon.

A fire inspector was on his way to the World Trade Center.

A best friend of one of the plane passengers learned about his death over voice mail.

Across the Lowcountry, a number of people were caught directly in the horror of Sept. 11, 2001.

For 10 years, they've carried on and thoroughly mulled the evil that the plot's mastermind, Osama bin Laden, inflicted on the nation, on their lives.

These are a few of their stories:

The co-pilot's daughter

The College of Charleston freshman track athlete lost her father on 9/11. Mike Horrocks was the co-pilot aboard United Airlines 175, the second plane that terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center.

Sunday was Christa Horrocks' 19th birthday.

She was 9 years old when it happened. Interviewed in September, she talked about the last words her father said to her, "I love you to the moon and back." It was in a quick phone call just before he took off from Boston, after she told him she didn't want to get out of bed to go to school. She began to worry when other students started talking in the school cafeteria, then was told by her mom in a park that afternoon.

She began running seriously not long after. "I just needed to get out of the house, so I'd go and just run for miles and miles," she said. She would go on to win a partial scholarship to the college. She remembers her father showing her how to boogie board, and pulling the board ahead of the breaking waves so she wouldn't be swamped. She remembers him as an outdoorsman who enjoyed being in his Boston Whaler. She said she plans to study marine biology.

For nine years, she has felt she will never be alone, she said in September.

The Post and Courier tried to reach Christa Horrocks on Monday. A college spokesman said she was too emotional to talk.

The best friend

Rob Concannon walked his dog down King Street on Monday morning then went to work as president of the South Carolina Stingrays. The news Sunday didn't particularly stir him.

On 9/11, Concannon was playing for the Stingrays hockey team. His former teammate and best friend from childhood, Mark Bavis, climbed aboard that second airplane, headed from Boston to Los Angeles, where he was a scout for the L.A. Kings in the National Hockey League. Concannon didn't know what had happened until he checked his voice mail later, overrun with calls. Then he went home to the wrenching funeral.

Bavis was the one who talked Concannon into coming to Charleston to play for the Stingrays. Bavis is the reason he is here today.

"I'm happy they were able to kill Osama bin Laden," Concannon said. "But it doesn't bring Mark back and it doesn't bring 3,000 other people back."

The accidental tourist

Benjamin Norris had mixed feelings when he heard about bin Laden. On 9/11, he and former North Charleston Police Detective Alan Williams were about to cross the bridge into New York City, on their way to tour the World Trade Center, when the first plane struck the tower. Williams and Norris, a North Charleston Fire inspector, were in New Jersey to pick up an arson suspect whose release had been delayed. They were just wasting time.

"It was a horrific sight to watch. I think about it every day," he said. "I think, if I had been 20 minutes sooner I'd have been in that building when it collapsed."

Norris is now president of Forensic Fire Analysis, a fire-investigation company. The news Sunday was great to hear, he said, but the expensive fortified compound where bin Laden was hiding made Norris wonder how many other people knew where he was all those years.

"I'm glad they finally found him. Long time coming," he said. "The only thing about it, I don't think the terrorism threat is over. I just hope the U.S. government and the people of the U.S. don't take this as, 'We can relax now.' "

The Pentagon captain

When Hagood Morrison heard, he thought about a chief petty officer who had worked with him.

On 9/11, Morrison was a Navy Reserve captain, stationed at the Pentagon monitoring non-combat operational events. He was on his way in to work an afternoon shift when the plane struck the building. Every one in his unit working that first shift was killed.

But when Morrison, now a commercial real estate agent with Colliers Keenan International in Charleston, heard about bin Laden, he thought about that chief petty officer. The man's son was aboard the flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. His son was a student on his way to compete in the National Spelling Bee.

"The chief, that's who my feelings go out to, that's the guy who's really lived with the impact, who wakes up every morning thinking about this," Morrison said. "For those who were involved and who did lose loved ones, it's an important closure to see (bin Laden) put out of action like that."

The sergeant home with his baby

Had he found a baby sitter that morning, Mike Fanning, a New York City police sergeant, would have arrived at the subway station near the World Trade Center just as the first airplane hit.

Instead, he watched the terror attacks while feeding his daughter breakfast at his blue-collar, Long Island home.

Now retired and serving as a Pawleys Island police officer, Fanning said simply, "It probably saved my life."

Fanning rushed to work and was assigned with others to the NYPD airfield where he helped direct the two dozen helicopters circling the sky as he watched the towers smolder from across Jamaica Bay.

He would later learn that his uncle, New York Fire Department Capt. Walter Hynes, was among the many firefighters killed. Hynes' crew, which lost 13 firefighters that day, was last heard from on the 22nd floor of the North Tower.

Fanning, the son of a firefighter, ended his shift at the airfield and spent the next several days sifting through the destruction at ground zero by whatever means necessary, sometimes digging with his bare hands.

"You do what you gotta do," he said. "It wasn't easy." At one point he was given a spray-paint can and told to walk the site and smell for decaying bodies so that workers knew where to direct cranes to lift the girders.

The attacks pushed Fanning and his family to move to the Grand Strand upon his retirement as an investigator with the hate-crimes unit. He missed the police life and took a job with the Pawleys Island department, where he's content chasing burglary suspects while taking classes remotely at Charleston Southern University.

He first learned of Osama bin Laden's death Sunday night on Twitter. He's proud of the men and women who found the ringleader, but he misses the family and friends he lost and knows there are still people out there willing to take bin Laden's place.

"It doesn't really change anything," he said. "It doesn't bring them back."

The boater in the river

Gene Reed was aboard his yacht docked at North Cove Marina when he heard a loud explosion. His first thought was that someone had bombed the World Trade Center again. He was moored a short walk away.

Reed, the Charleston automobile mogul, stepped out to watch the second plane slam into the tower looming above him.

"It just buried itself in there. It was like the plane disappeared. It was horrific," he said. He saw people begin inching out the windows to escape. He watched a man dressed in a suit stand up on the ledge, neaten the knot on his tie and leap to his death, the tie flapping.

"I saw a man and a woman step out on the ledge. They held each other's hand, I guess to give courage, and jumped. These are things that stick in your mind," Reed said.

Ten years later, Reed awoke Monday morning to see the photo of bin Laden in The Post and Courier and the huge headline "HE'S DEAD." It was wonderful news, he said

"He deserved to die. He killed thousands of innocent people and planned to kill as many more as he could. I don't think al-Qaida will disappear. But it's pretty exciting to see the headline," Reed said.

The consoling chaplain

The Rev. Rob Dewey, the well-known Charleston-area chaplain, was at ground zero the day after the towers fell. Although he'd comforted the grieving in the immediate aftermath of other disasters, the rawness in the rubble that day left him chilled.

Even now, he sometimes sleeps fitfully, remembering the heartache of his duties consoling first responders in New York for more than two weeks in September 2001.

Dewey, director of Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, was watching the 11 o'clock news Sunday night. He saw the news flash: Osama bin Laden was dead.

"It certainly brings closure for a lot of the families who lost loved ones and also for the first responders and for those who assisted after," he said.

The news turned at least some of his decade-old grief to pride of country. Dewey wanted to share the news with his wife, but she already was asleep.

"The first thing I said to her when she woke up was, 'He is no more,'" the chaplain recalled Monday.

She was confused. Dewey elaborated: "Osama's dead."

The volunteer firefighter

Benjamin Bragg, a former volunteer firefighter from Highland, N.Y., said news of Osama bin Laden's death will undoubtedly bring "a sense of justice" to first responders, some of whom he trained with before moving to the Charleston area several years ago.

Bragg learned of bin Laden's death Monday morning on his way to work at Mount Pleasant's Thomas C. Cario Middle School, where he is principal.

His first thought:

"It's about time," he recalled.

"This is getting to the meat of the problem," said Bragg, whose cousin, a bond trader, was supposed to have been working in one of the towers that day. "For relatives of people who died and for the firefighters I knew, this is a big weight off people's shoulders."

Bragg acknowledged the struggle against international terrorism is not over.

"It's a feather in the cap for us," he said. "But terrorism is going to continue throughout our lives."