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Osama Bin Laden's death welcomed across Tampa Bay

The historic news spread quickly across the nation and world and Tampa Bay. People found out from friends and family, by cell and by text, by word of mouth and by Twitter.

The 9,630 wrestling fans at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday night found out from John Cena.

The pro wrestler had just won the WWE championship in a pay-per-view steel cage match that evening. He was leaving the ring when someone stopped and whispered to him. Cena then climbed onto a table, put down his title belt and picked up a microphone.

"The president has just announced that we have caught and compromised to a permanent end Osama bin Laden," Cena, a 34-year-old Tampa resident, told the crowd.

Thousands cheered as they learned what President Barack Obama had already told the rest of the country: American forces cornered and killed bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"U-S-A. U-S-A, U-S-A," they cheered.

Randy Ojeda, a 21-year-old University of South Florida student, recorded the spectacle and put in on YouTube.

"It was like electricity in there," Ojeda said. "It was just awesome to see that many people enjoying that moment."

Jubilation was just one of the many moods experienced by Tampa Bay residents on Monday. But while most welcomed the news of bin Laden's death, not everyone celebrated it.

• • •

Spring Hill retirees Joe Holland and John Pasquale waited 10 years for this moment.

Standing on bricks inscribed with the names of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the two retired New York firefighters hugged and raised small plastic cups to toasted bin Laden's death Monday morning.

They did so at the memorial garden they helped create at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209. Holland's son Joey, an employee at a commodities firm, died when the World Trade Center collapsed. So did Pasquale's son-in-law, Andrew Stern, who worked at a securities company.

"I'm grateful today," said Pasquale. "It doesn't bring our loved ones back, but at least it's something. And it's important to us."

The garden was built using reminders of bin Laden's attacks: a piece of steel from the World Trade Center; a roof tile salvaged from the Pentagon; an urn of earth from the Shanksville, Pa., site where airline passengers plunged to their deaths in an attempt to prevent a third attack; and a naval shell from the U.S.S Cole, which was attacked by al-Qaida in 2000.

As 25 fellow members of the local NYC Retired Firefighters Chapter 343 looked on, Holland poured out small shots of liquor.

"We cut off the head of a snake, but there are still a lot of snakes out there," Holland said. "We're going to get them, too."

• • •

The news about bin Laden dominated morning conversation at breakfast and coffee spots all over the Tampa Bay area.

Frank Ryon, 67, said he was asleep when the news broke Sunday night. His wife woke him up after getting a midnight text message.

"Really, there is a sigh of relief," said Ryon, sitting at a Panera Bread on S Howard in Tampa on Monday morning. "This guy was a mastermind and he was going to do more."

At a Starbucks in downtown St. Petersburg, 49-year-old Kevin Kramer concurred.

"It's about time," Kramer said. "It seemed to have been a well orchestrated and well implemented mission on the part of the U.S. military."

At the Dunkin' Donuts in South Pasadena, Jack Brennan, 24, read about bin Laden's death on his BlackBerry. He was a high school freshman on Sept. 11, 2001. He called the news "pretty awesome."

"I'm glad that it's finally happened," he said. "It's been a long time coming."

• • •

At Tampa International Airport, where the impact of the terrorist attacks is felt directly at security checkpoints, there were no obvious signs of heightened security Monday morning.

Jan Fogarty, 47, a Tampa claims manager who was flying on business to Wichita, Kan., said it was barely 6 a.m. when she found out. She watched the news with her husband in their Brandon home. But she had to read it three times online before she believed it.

As her husband drove her to the airport, she grew quiet.

"When we pulled in, I thought to myself, 'Wow, this is where it all started,'" she said.

Tammy Zeph travels on a plane every week, mostly to Newark, N.J., for work as an independent accounting consultant. She doesn't expect bin Laden's death to alter airport security. She said she will take safety over convenience.

"This is a huge win and closure of one chapter, but I don't think the book is done," Zeph, 47, said Monday as she sat at Tampa International.

Others recounted their surprise. Ashon Nesbitt was ready for bed when his sister called at 11:15 p.m. He grabbed the remote and abandoned the movie his wife was watching for the news.

It was hard to believe.

"I was like, 'What? They finally got him?'" said Nesbitt, 30, who works in tax services.

• • •

Some said early Monday that they were skeptical that the news was really true. Others believed it was true, but were indifferent anyway.

Rick Roush, who was pumping gas at a 7-Eleven in St. Petersburg, wondered if bin Laden's death would change anything.

"It's been, what, almost 10 years?" he said. "So much has changed. This country has too many other political and economic problems to be magically fixed by this."

There were even those who — eight hours after the news broke — said they still hadn't heard what happened. One man said he wanted to see the body before he would believe it. Another said he thought bin Laden had been dead for a while.

There was another sentiment shared by many Tampa Bay residents: time to celebrate:

In Palm Harbor, Lagerhaus Brewery & Grill pledged to give a free beer or drink at 9 p.m. to "toast to the death" of bin Laden.

"Long awaited and desired, the biggest criminal a------ is finally dead," wrote owner Franz Rothschadl in an e-mail sent shortly after midnight.

"And he was not killed by a drone or bomb — no, by a small team of U.S. operatives, which makes it even more satisfying."

Satisfaction is what retired FDNY lieutenant Tim Harrigan said he felt on Monday. The Pasco County resident was one of the firefighters who worked at Ground Zero.

"I feel great today," said Harrigan, 46, who lives in Trinity. "It's a weird happiness. I went out and did some gardening."

Like many, Harrigan said he doubted that he would ever see bin Laden's demise. But it was the way it happened — bin Laden dying at the hands of U.S. forces, after years of hiding — that he found especially satisfying.

"I'm glad they killed him in a mansion," Harrigan said, "and not in a cave being the martyr he was pretending that he was being."

• • •

Some, like retired New York City police officer Manny Mojica Sr., still feel the same anger they felt a decade ago. He was driving a Hernando County school bus that morning. A supervisor told him to leave his route and report in.

The New York City fire department lost 343 firefighters and paramedics in the World Trade Center attacks. Two of them were members of Mojica's family: his son Manny Mojica Jr., a firefighter who left behind a wife and two young children at age 37; and cousin Dennis Mojica, a 50-year-old lieutenant with FDNY.

Manny Mojica Sr. learned of bin Laden's death on television Monday morning.

"That's not going to change anything I feel," he said. "I lost my son. I lost my cousin.

"He should have been dead years ago."

Staff writers Arleen Spenceley and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

Osama Bin Laden's death welcomed across Tampa Bay 05/02/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2011 8:20pm]
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