Bluffton ceremony honors victims of 9/11 attacks

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 11, 2013 

Barbara Cobb recalls pacing in her home on Hilton Head Island on Sept. 11, 2001, trying to understand what she had just seen on television -- one of the World Trade Center towers collapsing after an airliner smashed into it.

She later learned American Airlines Flight 77 had punched a 75-foot hole in the Pentagon -- where her sister worked as a budget analyst for the U.S. Army.

"Twenty-five thousand people work in the Pentagon," said Cobb, who now lives in Bluffton. "There's 17.5 miles of floor space. The plane hit directly over my sister's office window in Ring E."

Cobb's sister, 53-year-old Edna Stephens, died in the attack. She was identified by her fingerprints, Cobb said.

Cobb said the method of her identification was fitting. Stephens had classified fingerprints for the FBI before working for the Army.

On Wednesday, Cobb wore a necklace with two of her sister's rings attached, one of them bent and damaged from the attack. She also wore a crafted angel, one of "Edna's Angels" made by a relative to honor her sister.

Twelve years later, the memories of her sister are still vivid.

"She was very outspoken and bluntly honest, but she loved to laugh," Cobb said. "She loved Lou Costello, and she used to laugh at the way Rod Serling would pronounce 'The Twilight Zone.'"

Cobb was one of about 100 people who gathered outside Bluffton Town Hall on Wednesday morning for a ceremony honoring those who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mayor Lisa Sulka and Bluffton police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner spoke at the 45-minute ceremony. Residents, police officers and firefighters attended.

Sulka told the crowd it was "OK to have an emotional day today."

"Having an emotional day means we haven't forgotten the events of that day," she said. "We must never forget what happened or the heroes of that day."

Retired FBI agent and current Dataw Island security chief Wells Morrison was the featured speaker. A former supervisor of an FBI satellite office in western Pennsylvania, Morrison was the on-scene commander at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.

Bluffton police chief Joey Reynolds introduced Morrison, calling him a "good friend to law enforcement."

"We say we remember where we were on 9/11," Reynolds said. "Wells will never forget."

Morrison described how his office slowly found out about the attacks. His office was mostly in the dark about what was going on until about 10:03 a.m., when he received word from the Pennsylvania State Police that a call from a passenger on the plane reported it had been hijacked. The call then went dead.

Flight 93 had crashed.

"The plane had crashed into a reclaimed strip mine at over 580 mph," Morrison said. "It hit a mining wall after crashing into the soft earth on the surface. It was complete and utter devastation."

Arriving at the scene, investigators were surprised to find little debris on the surface, discovering much of it was burrowed beneath the dirt from the hole the plane had gouged. Morrison said the recovery of items, like the plane's recorders and personal effects, helped determine that the passengers had attempted to retake the plane from the four hijackers.

"We recovered the black boxes, which confirmed without a doubt the heroic nature of Flight 93's passengers," he said.

"They were heroes in the truest sense of the word."


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