Residents relate tales of their lost loved ones
By JENNIFER FARRELLand DAN DeWITT
© St. Petersburg Times,
The Rev. Ray Rouse knew something was wrong when he got to the White House on Tuesday morning and found SWAT teams armed with machine guns waiting on the lawn.
"They came right to us," he said Thursday. "It was a controlled pandemonium."
Rouse, pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church, was in Washington, D.C., this week for the annual conference of the American Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
His story was one of several with local connections to emerge in the wake of the terrorist attacks that stunned the nation Tuesday.
Rouse and William Crawford, principal of Spring Hill Christian Academy, had taken one of three buses filled with conventioners from a hotel near the Capitol to the White House, where the group of 150 to 200 was scheduled to meet with one of President Bush's speech writers.
When they got to the gate, though, they were turned away.
"We thought, "Well, maybe we've got the wrong gate,' " Rouse recalled.
But as they made their way down the block, the group crowded around a van parked on the street with its door open and the radio on. There, they got word of a second strike in New York and learned that the Pentagon was on fire.
"People came flooding out of buildings," said Rouse. "It was just total gridlock."
Rouse said his first thought was for his wife, Linda, who, along with Crawford's wife, Dawn, had planned to visit the Pentagon that morning.
When he tried to use his cell phone to call the hotel, the service was down. And every pay phone he saw was occupied, Rouse said.
"It was pandemonium in the streets," he said. "People (were) running everywhere."
Because the buses had left after dropping them off, Rouse said he and the others were forced to walk the approximately 3 miles back to convention headquarters. From there, he and Crawford called their wives and found they had slept in, postponing their trip to the Pentagon.
When they got back to the hotel where they were staying, Rouse said, black smoke billowed skyward, and the fires were clearly visible from the windows of their rooms.
"People were just running in every direction, helter skelter, down the street," he said. "I was overwhelmed that this was our nation's capital. It was under siege."
After trying to get through for nearly four hours, the couples were able to convince their rental car company to let them take the car to Florida. They left early Wednesday and returned to Spring Hill at 11 p.m.
"We just drove straight through," Rouse said. "It was unbelievable."
Theresa Russell's connection to the tragedy in New York was more distant but more personal.
Her uncle, William Feehan, was New York's first-deputy fire commissioner, the second-highest ranking official in the New York Fire Department.
He also was one of the first firefighters confirmed dead Tuesday morning, when his command post was crushed by debris when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Feehan was a revered figure in her family, said Russell, 37, who moved to Spring Hill four years ago and works as a teacher's aide at J.D. Floyd Elementary School.
Feehan joined the department as a firefighter more than 40 years ago, she said. He went on to hold every position on the force -- including fire chief, the highest uniformed rank, and commissioner during the final months of former Mayor David Dinkins' administration.
Russell remembers that Feehan often had to work on holidays and that he always seemed to be studying for another certification.
But when he was not at work, she said, he was an especially attentive father to his four children. The families swam together at Rockaway Beach, where she grew up, and she remembers several times when he took his children and nieces and nephews to firehouses.
"I guess he wanted to show us off," she said. "He was a great man. He was a great father and a great uncle."
Jean Fawley has been hearing stories that some of the passengers aboard the hijacked flight that crashed in rural Pennsylvania acted heroically.
She is certain that her nephew, Todd Beamer, was one of them.
On Tuesday, when she first heard he was aboard the flight, she said, "I turned around to my husband and said, "Todd would never sit on that plane and let something like that happen.' He was just that kind of guy. He was a take-charge guy and he was a strong athlete."
Fawley and her husband, Jack, live in Homosassa, but attend the Christian Church in the Wildwood near Weeki Wachee. Beamer, 32, lived with his wife, Lisa, in New Jersey. He was an account manager for a computer firm and was flying on business when the plane was hijacked.
Fawley said Lisa Beamer is certain her husband was trying to contact her by cell phone shortly before the plane crashed. Her home telephone rang twice about 10 a.m. Tuesday. Both times, the line was dead when Lisa Beamer picked it up.
Fawley is consoled by her belief that Beamer, a Christian, is now in heaven. But the tragedy will deeply affect his wife -- who is due to deliver the couple's third child in January -- and their two sons, ages 2 and 4.
Fawley said, "I got an e-mail from my sister, his mother. She said, "Todd was a wonderful father for such a short time.' "
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