Bin Laden's Death Brings Justice for Towson Family
Dan McNeal, a Towson native, died in the 9/11 attacks.
Dan McNeal's bedroom looks much as it might have 10 years ago. Awards and photographs hang on the wall. His wallet, with a New York City subway card still pristine inside, sits by the door.
McNeal, a Towson native who worked in the World Trade Center, was one of the thousands killed in the 9/11 attacks. His mother, Kathryn, still keeps a room clean for him in her Ruxton home, decorated with memorials and mementos from a life cut short.
Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and 9/11 mastermind, was killed early Monday local time in a firefight with American military forces at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 40 miles from the capital of Islamabad.
As politicians and pundits dissect the complexities surrounding bin Laden's death, the terrorist's killing has meant something much simpler to Kathryn McNeal: justice.
She wept when she heard the news of bin Laden's death.
The Ruxton resident last heard her son Dan's voice on an answering machine recording when he told his family he was trying to flee the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Dan, 29, was a vice president at investment firm Sandler O'Neill on the 104th floor.
On Sunday night, Kathryn McNeal was in bed, watching the news. Before word leaked from White House officials that Obama would announce bin Laden's death, she assumed the news briefing was about actions in Libya or Syria, places she thought seemed much more important to American officials.
"I thought this was so far on the back burner with so much going on that I couldn't believe that it would have happened," she said.
When news broke of bin Laden's death, it was cathartic for the long-grieving mother.
"I just cried," she said. "I couldn't believe it ... to think that they still cared enough to keep it alive."
Bin Laden was shot and killed in a meticulously planned operation that began with intelligence American officials received last summer.
"For over two decades, bin Laden has been al-Qaida’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies," Obama said in a rare Sunday evening address from the East Room of the White House, which was carried live on news networks around the world. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida."
Daniel McNeal, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Towson and attended Loyola Blakefield. His family remembers him as an outgoing young man who tried his hand at athletics before deciding he was better behind the scenes. He managed sports teams there and was a star of public speaking competitions. He even served as class president.
"If he wasn't at my house, he was at Loyola," his mother recalled.
After graduating Loyola in 1990, he attended Boston College and Georgetown University, graduating both with honors. He earned his master's degree at Georgetown in 2000 and took a job at Sandler O'Neill. Within just five months, he became a vice president of the firm.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kathryn was out walking her dog when her husband called after seeing early TV news reports about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The family gathered in her terminally ill husband's room at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson to watch the news.
Meanwhile, Dan had left a phone message on their home answering machine, saying he was trying to get out of the South Tower after the first plane had hit the North Tower. At 9:03 a.m., just more than 15 minutes after the first plane hit, the second plane struck the South Tower between the 77th and 85th floors.
"We sat there and saw it on-screen, saw the plane hit Tower 2, and we knew that was it," Kathryn McNeal said.
Miraculously, she said, her son's body was recovered from the wreckage. A week later, the family was able to bury him at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
"You would think he was just sleeping, they did such a magnificent job on his body."
The remainder of 2001 was an emotional roller coaster for the McNeal family. Kathryn's daughter, Kathleen McNeal Scheeler of Timonium, was set to marry two weeks after the attacks—Dan was supposed to walk her down the aisle. Their father passed away that December and was buried on Christmas Eve. Two days later, Kathleen learned she was pregnant. They named their first child, a son, Danny.
Scheeler and her husband, Chris, don't hide from their three children that their uncle was killed in the 9/11 attacks. They taught them "as soon as they could that bad people had taken planes into uncle Danny's building," Kathleen Sheeler said.
Daughter Reese, 4, spent much of Sunday night with her mother watching the news.
"They know Uncle Danny," Kathleen Sheeler said. "They know his legacy."
To honor her late brother, the family established a scholarship at Loyola Blakefield in 2002, and a room at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business is named for him. Sunday night's news closes a chapter in his legacy.
"I went to bed feeling a sense of security that I felt on Sept. 10 and I woke up this morning just hoping we have the country unity that we had on Sept. 12, 2001," she said. "A sense of security in the sense that justice has been done, but we're far from being 100 percent secure."
And it doesn't change the fact, for Dan McNeal's family, that their son, brother and uncle is gone.
"It brings me a sense of justice, but not a sense of closure," Kathryn McNeal said. "No one who has lost a son or daughter will ever have closure."
An earlier version of this article misspelled Kathleen Sheeler's name. Patch regrets the error.