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To Myrta Gschaar, Osama bin Laden is the man who killed her husband.
The native New Yorker-turned-Maumee resident lost her husband, Robert, on Sept. 11, 2001, when an airplane commandeered by terrorists smashed into the World Trade Center where Mr. Gschaar worked on the 92nd floor of the second tower. His widow cannot even bring herself to utter bin Laden’s name in her home.
“He was actually the core of the evil,” Mrs. Gschaar said Monday, adding that she would not flatter bin Laden with the title of “mastermind” of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“He’s just somebody who got attached to the devil himself and just acted on these bad deeds,” she said. “There are followers and other groups that are going to want to use this to stir up even more fire, and the world and Americans should be aware of that. This is not the end. This is the beginning.”
Still, news of bin Laden’s death Sunday at the hands of American troops in Pakistan was a relief to her, a relief she did not expect to feel.
“I didn’t even think it was going to happen, not in my lifetime. I’m 61 years old, and I thought, will I still be alive when all of this unfolds?” Mrs. Gschaar asked. “I’m glad. I’m relieved, and I feel justice has been served. I also want to add that our military men and women — I mean, how fabulous are they? Everyone who contributed to keeping us safe — kudos to them.”
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Across the area, many reacted to news of bin Laden’s demise after a nearly 10-year manhunt with pride in their country, gratitude to their military, and some trepidation for the future.
“My initial feeling was ‘At last, yes, this is good, we finally accomplished this,’ and I was really happy about it,” said Sharon Belkofer of Perrysburg Township, whose son, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on May 18. “But then my second reaction was, ‘Oh gosh, this will mean that our soldiers need to be on their alert, that this can be dangerous for them, that certainly those who are followers of Osama bin Laden will be very angry, and we already have indications of what kinds of things they’re capable of.’ “
Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever, vice chairman of the Ohio Homeland Security Advisory Council, said bin Laden’s death doesn’t end the threat of terrorism, and that others will try to take his place.
“Some sect is going to step up and try to make a name for themselves,” Chief Wolever said. “There may even be an increase in threat, depending on what analyst you listen to. We always knew that getting him wasn’t going to change the risk or the threat; it was our job to change vulnerability and harden the target.”
Chief Wolever said bin Laden’s demise remains key to fighting the war on terrorism inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Get the leadership
“Everybody’s been waiting anxiously for this to happen,” said Chief Wolever, who has been the vice chairman of the state-level group for about six years. “We wanted to see him killed, not die of natural causes. It’s just such an important facet of the war on terrorism to bring down the leadership. Everybody that’s been in the military knows that that’s not going to stop the wars, but it means a lot to everybody to see the people who masterminded [the terrorist attacks] fall.”
While President Obama and others said justice has been done, longtime Toledo peace activist Mike Ferner said he didn’t agree. He said bin Laden’s death was “just one more death in a way-too-long string of deaths.”
“We just killed another person even though we think — we’ve never proven it — we think this person was responsible for thousands of deaths in our own country,” he said. “It’s not a cause for celebration. What would’ve been cause to celebrate was to see the United States treat that attack as a criminal act, to try the offenders, punish the guilty, and show that war is not the answer. That would have been something to celebrate.”
Toledoan Kelly White, a 2008 graduate of St. Ursula Academy, was studying for final exams Sunday night after a semester in Washington, when she and her roommates heard about bin Laden’s death and decided to head to the White House 26 or so blocks from their house.
Along the way, cars were blowing their horns, people were shouting, “Go America.” The celebration unfolding outside the White House, the surge of patriotism, she said, was incredible to behold, though she concedes it felt a bit strange, too.
A political debate ensues
“We were there probably an hour and a half and the whole time people were cheering, people were singing, everyone was taking pictures. It was cool for us. We were excited to be part of history,” Ms. White said. “It also sort of left us questioning things — how was there so much celebration over one man’s death? His death was not necessarily going to end the terrorist movement. It turned into a political debate on the walk back.”
Matthew Krueger, who spent a year in Iraq with the Ohio National Guard, returning in 2006, felt a sense of accomplishment in the news of bin Laden’s death.
“That was why we were over there, what sparked it at least,” he said. “He sparked the whole thing.”
Mr. Krueger, who served as a sergeant 1st class with the guard’s 612th Engineer Battalion, is no longer in the guard.
The Perrysburg resident said being in Iraq — not Afghanistan where bin Laden was long believed to be hiding — there was less emphasis on finding the al-Qaeda leader. Still, when he heard the announcement Sunday night he was thankful and proud.
“A lot of people have sacrificed,” Mr. Krueger said. “A lot of people have lost their lives, not only on 9/11, but soldiers all around the global war on terror. It’s not in vain necessarily.”
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell was the city’s fire chief when the terrorist attacks occurred in September, 2001. Shortly afterward, he was appointed by then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to lead a regional homeland security effort.
He said he believes the nation is safer with bin Laden dead but, he added, America must remain vigilant against terrorism.
“I think the concern I have is that for every action there is a reaction,” the mayor said. “Although I believe we are safer with the demise of Osama bin Laden, I am still concerned about the reaction al-Qaeda might take in reaction to his death. So I think we still need to keep our guard up.”
Mr. Bell said it was understandable some people would cheer the al-Qaeda killing.
“Regardless of how evil — or perceived evil — is, I get no celebration out of someone’s death,” he said.
In statement after statement, area legislators applauded the news.
“I hail, with the utmost respect, the courage and dedication of our Armed Forces and intelligence agencies who have brought long-awaited justice to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks,” U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said in a statement. “While al-Qaeda is still a dangerous foe, all Americans can take solace in removing this unrepentant murderer from the world. The road to winning the war on terror is long and hard, but it is winnable, and this is a major milestone toward victory.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said Americans will never forget the Sept. 11 attacks and the 3,000 lives lost, “But now, nearly 10 years after that tragic day, the world’s most wanted terrorist will no longer threaten our nation’s democracy and freedom. This is a victory for all Americans and a testament to the sacrifice of our service members and their families, and the American intelligence community.”
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) highlighted the country’s persistence in going after bin Laden.
“America has been waiting almost a decade for this moment. It closes a major chapter in the struggle against those who attacked the United States. This effort owes so much to the thousands and thousands of soldiers who have died or been wounded since 9/11. We salute the courage and skill of those who carried out this operation,” Miss Kaptur said. “This is a long struggle and I’m glad this particular chapter is closed.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), who visited troops in Afghanistan last week, issued a statement of thanks to the military and the intelligence community who made the operation a success.
“This welcome news follows years of tireless efforts by our government to bring to justice those responsible for attacking this country on Sept. 11, 2001, and the numerous attacks before and since,” Mr. Portman said.
‘World is better off’
Steve Miller, a founding member of the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, said it was unfortunate bin Laden was not captured alive because he could have provided useful information about the al-Qaeda network. Still, the news of his death was welcome.
“I think the world is better off without bin Laden in it,” Mr. Miller said. “I also think it’s a mistake to think that now that bin Laden is gone that terrorism will somehow be diminished. I don’t think it will be. I think there will be a negative reaction to his death, and I also think just cutting off the head of the snake is not going to kill the snake in this case.”
Marc Simon, an associate professor of political science at Bowling Green State University, said he sees bin Laden’s death as a blow to al-Qaeda although “al-Qaeda has been on a downward path for a long time.”
“If there is something that’s killing al-Qaeda it’s the Arab Spring ... the nonviolent movements that have overthrown dictatorships,” he said. “Those movements have totally discredited al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda’s main goal was to overthrow dictatorships in the Middle East. They argued for years the only way to do this was through terrorism, and lo and behold some democratic activists have gotten their act together and overthrown two states and are on their way to overthrowing two or three more.”
A sense of closure
For Americans, he said, bin Laden’s death provides “a real symbolic sense of closure.” He said it might also put pressure on President Obama to end the war in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think the American public will be as supportive to stay on and fight now that we’ve got Osama bin Laden,” he said. “It takes away one more motivation to keep going in Afghanistan.”
Donald Belkofer, Jr., whose son was killed last year in Afghanistan, said he was happy to hear the news, but wished it would have come years earlier.
“We should’ve gotten him a long time ago, and my son would’ve been home right now. They could’ve all been home,” he said.
Mrs. Belkofer said that, while it took nearly 10 years for the United States to accomplish its goal of capturing bin Laden, she was heartened to see that U.S. Special Forces were able to get bin Laden “with as little impact on anyone else as possible,” that the government was making sure it was bin Laden through DNA testing.
“It’s not only that we did it, but the way in which we did it,” she said.
Mrs. Gschaar said that to her, it was vital to have DNA proof that bin Laden is dead.
“I want the DNA report. This is not enough. It really is not,” she said. “The anticipation and the stress is just overwhelming at this point waiting for that last bit of information.”
She added that she does know how bin Laden’s supporters might retaliate, although she hopes Americans continue to stand together against fear.
“All we can do is just bind together as a group of people and stick to our values and be strong to each other and give each other support and keep this country free,” she said. “I know I grew up free. I didn’t have to worry about terrorists. I would like my grandchildren’s children to grow up free and not to worry about terrorists.”
Staff writers Tyrel Linkhorn and Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.