190 presumed dead, Pentagon says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said yesterday that about 190 people are missing and presumed dead in Tuesday's terrorist attack, putting a number on the tragedy for the first time. At least seven Maryland residents are among those thought to have perished.

In its first official estimate, the Pentagon said 126 men and women in the building at the time are thought to have died, in addition to 64 people killed when the hijacked American Airlines jet on which they were flying crashed into the building.

If accurate, the toll would exceed the 168 deaths in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until Tuesday, when hijacked airliners plowed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

But the estimate is well below some reported earlier, which ranged up to 800. The Pentagon, which listed victims as missing, said it will not release a casualty list until it identifies all those unaccounted for. But officials held out little hope for survivors.

The Army reported 74 people missing, more than any other branch of the service. Officials said 21 were soldiers, 47 civilians and six Army contractors. The service has not released victims' names, but officials confirmed privately that Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude, chief of Army personnel, is among the missing.

The Navy reported losing 42 people - 33 sailors and nine civilians. The Marine Corps and Air Force reported no losses. Other defense agencies said a total of 10 people were unaccounted for.

The bodies of roughly two-thirds of the victims have been removed from the Pentagon.

Seven Maryland residents were among those reported missing by the Navy - three active-duty sailors, one civilian employee and three contractors.

They are:

Kris Romeo Bishundat, 23, of Waldorf, an information systems technician second class; Lt. j.g. Darin Howard Pontell, 26, of Columbia; Lt. Cmdr. Ronald James Vauk, 37, of Mount Airy; Angela Houtz, 27, of La Plata, a civilian employee; Julian Cooper, 39, of Springdale, a contractor; Jerry Moran, 39, of Upper Marlboro, a contractor; and Marvin Woods, 58, of Great Mills, a contractor.

With the fire out except for occasional flare-ups, and workers attempting to stabilize the building, more of the Pentagon's 23,000 employees returned to work yesterday. The nation's military headquarters continued to function at its highest state of alert.

"We're operating on the assumption that we haven't seen the last of these criminals and that there may be things anticipated, planned, as part of this operation," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told reporters. "We continue to be on our guard against a number of possibilities."

Rescue workers, meanwhile, continued to retrieve the charred remains of the victims, which were dispatched by helicopter to the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where coroners began trying to make identifications through fingerprints and dental records, officials said.

Hope that anyone would be found alive continued to fade as scores of friends and relatives of the missing listened to somber briefings by military personnel at a hotel in Northern Virginia where the Pentagon has established a makeshift gathering place.

"The question that came up a lot in this briefing was that people are seeing reports from neighbors and friends that there are injured in hospitals right now who don't know who they are," said Maj. Ben Owens, a Defense Department spokesman. "Some people were really hoping someone had suffered with amnesia, but at this point there are no such cases out there."

To help cope with the trauma, some family members have asked to visit the crash site, but it remains sealed off. Others cannot stop reliving their haunting memories of the attack.

"I heard a ring, and then I heard a boom," said Andrea Doctor, recounting her last phone call to her husband, Johnnie Doctor Jr., just before the plane hit the building. "I loved my husband. He was a fighter."

Some emerged shaken after hearing how pessimistic the Pentagon personnel sounded about the chances of a miracle discovery of survivors.

"We were still keeping hope alive that he'll come up out of those ashes," said Coven Baumgardner, who accompanied Doctor's wife to the victim assistance center. "But at the briefing, it didn't look hopeful."

Hundreds of people filtered through the hotel in what turned into a wrenching procession of grief. Two women entered the hotel holding each other and sobbing. A man came with his hat in his hands. A child followed his relatives, clutching a teddy bear.

"I believe that since she has passed, she'll be in a better place," said Oscar White, who came to the hotel seeking information about his wife, Sandra, a civilian working for the Army who disappeared in the blast.

"Her two sons went to school today because that's what she would have wanted," he said. "She is the heart and soul of our family."

With the fire now extinguished, some rescue workers who were among the first on the scene Tuesday finally stopped to reflect.

"It will always be with me," recalled Arlington County Fire Department Capt. Ed Blunt, the first emergency service supervisor to reach the Pentagon, as he stood just beyond the gaping hole that the attack ripped in the building's southwest side.

"There was an Army person," he said, "a gentleman probably 50 years old, had both of his hands cut off at the palms and he was burned severely, and he was more concerned with us treating the other people than himself. It was just amazing the courage some of these folks have at a time like this."

Since Wednesday, military officials have made house calls to the next of kin of all the missing. Many family members wanted more information, and even with little available, they began streaming into the Virginia hotel over the past two days.

Owens, a spokesman for the Pentagon's family outreach operation, said that 54 families have come to inquire about missing relatives. But most, he said, have not received definite answers.

Sonya Rush came to the hotel yesterday for information about her stepmother, Brenda Kegle, a 49-year-old Capitol Heights resident and budget analyst.

"We've been to all the hospitals and have been calling everywhere," said Rush, 39, of Forestville.

Holding a framed picture of Kegle, Rush said that a general delivered some difficult news at yesterday morning's briefing for family members.

"He said 38 people were pulled out, charred beyond recognition. He was very sympathetic, but very blunt. That's what we were looking for, the truth."

Floyd Rasmussen, 59, emerged from the hotel wearing a name tag with a picture of his missing wife. It showed a smiling teen-age girl and read: "Rhonda Ridge Rasmussen, 1974." Rasmussen said his wife, a civilian employee of the Army since 1981, wore the name tag at her 25th high school reunion.

"It was sitting on top of the dresser," Rasmussen said. "I just thought it was appropriate." He said two soldiers came to his Woodbridge, Va., home yesterday to officially inform him that his wife was "still on duty status, but location is unknown."

The first remains of those killed began arriving yesterday aboard Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters at Dover Air Force Base, where the Defense Department's largest mortuary has handled the grim business of identifying casualties from military conflicts, disasters and terrorist attacks for nearly half a century.

Truck drivers who normally are allowed in after checking with gate security guards were held outside the base for as long as 45 minutes yesterday as bomb-sniffing dogs checked each commercial vehicle before it was allowed on the base. Drivers were then escorted by armed airmen in military vehicles as they made deliveries, then led to exit gates.

"Maybe if the security had been this tight at the airports, the whole thing wouldn't have happened," said Charles Daugherty of Swedesboro, N.J., who delivered one of seven rented refrigerated trucks that could store victims' remains until they are shipped to families for private burial.

Sun staff writers Tom Bowman and Chris Guy contributed to this article.

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