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    Picture emerges of teen suicide pilot

    CHARLES BISHOP: To some, he was a smart, humorous student, which makes his suicide flight all the more incomprehensible.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 8, 2002
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    Charles Bishop was a teacher's dream. He read Shakespeare in class, pulled together a middle school literary magazine and enjoyed a good game of flag football.

    Friends and family members who knew him best described Charles as a patriot.

    The teen who flew an airplane into the Bank of America building, carrying a note sympathizing with Osama bin Laden, was the same gangly fellow who sang My Country 'Tis of Thee louder than anyone.

    "He was proud to be an American, let me tell you," said Dale Porter, his former headmaster at Dunedin Academy middle school.

    His family issued a statement, their first since the Saturday crash:

    "Charles and his family have always fully supported our United States war on terrorism and Osama bin Laden. We do not understand how or why this incident happened."

    Bishop's classmates at East Lake High School returned to school Monday from winter break, trying to fathom what led a quiet honors student to commandeer an airplane and crash it in a way that evoked memories of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Many classmates and neighbors said they did not know Charles, that he was too new to his neighborhood and school, and too quiet to have forged many friendships.

    Originally named Charles Bishara, he was born in February 1986 to Charles and Julia, who were 20 and 18, respectively. The two married in Wilmington, Mass., one month later.

    Five months afterward, Julia Bishara filed for divorce, saying her husband struck her in the mouth and "had acted in a cruel and abusive fashion" on other occasions. Her husband's address at the time was listed as "Eastern Middlesex Recovery House."

    From that point, Charles and his mother lived a mobile life, moving to the Massachusetts towns of Reading, Winchester, Hingham and Norwell. They also lived in Atlanta, Pinellas sheriff's officials say, and later in different locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Friends said that he sometimes lived with his grandmother, Karen Johnson, and that they were close.

    Investigators have been unable to find the boy's father, Charles Bishara. A grandfather, Robert Bishara, lives in the Boston area. He said he has lost contact with the family.

    "I'm going to be honest with you: I don't know anymore about what happened than you do," Robert Bishara said. "I don't want to say anything that might be wrong."

    At some point before 1992, Julia Bishara began using the name Bishop. Her son did, too.

    In Tampa, he attended Benito Middle School in northeast Hillsborough County and Walker Middle School in northwest Hillsborough County. He also went to Dunedin Academy, a private middle school, before entering East Lake High School in northern Pinellas County this fall.

    Neighbors and acquaintances said Bishop was quiet, not likely to speak unless spoken to. People at his apartment complex in the East Lake area knew him because they made small talk as he walked a white dog. But several who spoke to him regularly said they were unaware of one of his passions: flying lessons.

    "The problem is no one knew him," said Jillian Bandes, 16, an East Lake High School junior. "He was anonymous. It's like he didn't even exist."

    Some East Lake students described Bishop as a good, attentive student who sat in the front row of third-period journalism class. One said she remembers seeing Bishop sitting by himself in the library during lunch, surfing the Internet.

    Yet he seemed angered by the Sept. 11 attacks, said Beverly Fujiki, 17, a classmate. "I just remember that he was upset that the whole thing happened," she said.

    That's why she has a tough time believing what officials are saying about Bishop's suicide note.

    "It just seems so out of character for him," said Fujiki, a senior. "It doesn't seem like him at all. He said he wanted to be in the Air Force. It was one of his dreams."

    Some remembered him making off-the-wall jokes.

    "Sometimes when I'd ask him where he was from, he'd make jokes about being from Afghanistan," said Geoffry Mackey, who for a time sat behind Bishop in class at Dunedin Academy last year. "Or he'd say, "I'm a Muslim.' Then he'd correct himself and say "No, I'm from Boston.' He didn't obsess with it."

    Another former classmate at Dunedin Academy, Alexander Felos, also remembers that Bishop joked he was from Afghanistan. Of course, Felos said, he also joked that he was from Australia.

    "He always used to joke around," Felos said.

    But the jokes about Afghanistan came a year ago -- long before the events of Sept. 11.

    His classmates and teachers painted a portrait of a teenager who might have been something of a loner but who was bright and well-mannered. He gave no hint of turmoil inside.

    The contradiction left acquaintances wrestling for answers.

    "Why would a student, who was so effervescent, suddenly commit suicide?" asked Walker Middle School teacher Sandra Sawyer, her eyes red from crying. "He was a very, very bright student."

    Said Gabriella Terry, Bishop's journalism teacher at East Lake High: "I just didn't see this coming. The first thing I did was start pulling out papers . . . to see if there was something I missed. I didn't."

    Five members of the Pinellas County Schools crisis team were at East Lake High School Monday. About 20 students talked to them, and many said they were friends of Bishop, said Carol Madura, a crisis counseling specialist.

    "They were grieving because they're going to miss Charles," she said.

    After classes on Monday, East Lake students met with dozens of reporters, some from newspapers as far away as the Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan. The floor of the school's media center was nearly covered by blue, red, yellow and green wires that fed into about a dozen television cameras during an afternoon press conference.

    Everyone tried to make sense of the tragedy.

    "We had absolutely no prior indication that this might occur," Bishop's family said in the prepared statement. They added:

    "We will always remember Charles as a loving and giving person, a hard working and responsible honor roll student, and a boy who cares deeply about his country. We hope that something positive can come out of our tragic loss."

    -- Times staff writers Robert Farley, Chuck Murphy, Julie Church, Melanie Ave, Melia Bowie and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report, which also includes information from Associated Press and Boston Globe.

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