William & Mary

W&M reacts to news of Osama bin Laden's death

  • Historic night
    Historic night  Hundreds of William & Mary students gathered in the Sunken Garden Sunday night after hearing about the death of Osama bin Laden.  Photo courtesy of Caroline Wren Martin '13
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Brittany Rende ’12 was studying in Swem Library on Sunday night when she saw the news on Facebook: Osama Bin Laden was dead.

“I kind of made a very loud announcement on the first floor of Swem and the entire first floor flocked to one of the TVs,” she said.

Around campus, the Williamsburg area and the world, similar reactions were taking place as word spread about the demise of the Al Qaeda leader who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks. Today, William & Mary students, faculty, alumni and staff are still reacting to the news that broke less than 24 hours ago.

Local reaction

After an hour of news reports and speculation late Sunday night, President Barack Obama formally announced bin Laden’s death, saying “justice has been done.” As the news quickly spread, with the help of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, groups of people spontaneously gathered at locations such as Ground Zero and the White House to celebrate.

According to a Flat Hat article, hundreds of William & Mary students gathered in the Sunken Garden Sunday evening for a similar celebration. Caroline Wren Martin ’13 was among the students who gathered there. She had heard about the pending announcement via Facebook and tuned in to CNN. After hearing the news from Wolf Blizter, Martin said she just stared at the TV for a few seconds.

“Then I wondered what it meant in practical terms,” she said. “Are we safer now? I still don't know the answer to that one. But the coverage started to address the spontaneous celebrations at Lafayette Park outside the White House, and I realized that whatever the practical implications, it was an opportunity to appreciate all that's happened since 9/11. It was cause to celebrate simply that we're American and free despite whatever attacks come our way.”

Martin, a double major in Russian and post-Soviet studies and psychology, said the gathering in the Sunken Garden was “very exciting and positive.” Students sang “American the Beautiful,” waved flags and chanted things like “USA,” and one student later called for a moment of silence for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It was a celebration of America, and not, at its heart, of anybody's death,” she said. “I'm proud of my classmates for coming together to peacefully and creatively celebrate their freedom.”

Sarah Faszewski ’11, an English major, also attended the gathering.

“There was a feeling of community, that no matter who you were, you belonged there,” she said.

Faszewski said she will always remember the night.

“ I am going to remember being with my friends, and celebrating in the Sunken Gardens. I will remember watching the news and listening to veterans recount their stories, while tears of joy were running down their faces.”

Back at Swem Library, Rende and the other students struggled to figure out how to turn the volume on the TV up. Students began calling their parents to get details. Shelby Ziegler ‘13 finally called her mom and used her cell phone’s speakerphone function so the crowd could hear the audio that went along with what they were seeing on TV.

The announcement of bin Laden’s death hit close to home for Rende. A native of Long Island, N.Y., she remembers Sept. 11, 2001, well. Her father worked near Ground Zero, and she, just 11 at the time, and her mother spent most of that day anxiously waiting for word on him. He finally arrived home safely that evening.

Nearly 10 years after that day, the news of bin Laden’s death brought Rende a bit of comfort.

“It was kind of something that I can say, okay, the mastermind behind that is gone. I feel a little safer being back home now,” she said.

The international relations and history double major added that bin Laden’s death is something many have been waiting for.

“I think that the world is going to be slightly more at peace because of it, but at the same time, you know what, there’s still someone out there who’s going to try to cause problems.”

Alumni remembered

Seven William & Mary alumni died in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, and since that time, William & Mary has continued to feel the effects of that day as members of the College community have mourned loved ones who were lost while serving with the United States military. In 2005, the College lost one of its own when alumnus Marine 1st Lt. Donald “Ryan” McGlothlin ’01 was killed in action while serving in Iraq.  In September 2010, the College lost another alumnus when Army 1st Lt. Todd W. Weaver ‘08 died while serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

In November 2010, the College’s Student Athletic Advisory Council began a fundraising campaign in honor of Weaver. Though the sale of wristbands bearing the words “One Tribe. One Family,” the campaign has raised approximately $30,000 so far. The Board of Visitors adopted a resolution in April honoring Weaver and establishing an endowment in Weaver's name.

Monday morning, members of the Weaver family reacted to news of bin Laden’s death.

“What those guys did last night honors Todd and everyone else who has been involved over there,” said Donn Weaver, Todd’s father. “I hope it’s a turning point, that people realize it’s a dead end for people who support things of that nature (terrorism).”

Todd’s mom, Jeannie Weaver, said she has “a lot of mixed emotions right now.”

“My emotions today have been up, down, and all around. I finally realized that I have to keep the TV off today, because I can’t stop crying,” she said, adding she hopes “that this is the beginning of the end.” 

Todd’s wife, Emma, said she was elated.

“I found out at 10:50 last night, and I dropped to my knees, sobbing,” she said. “It was the happiest cry you could ever experience. I was euphoric, filled with pride and joy, though covered in the shadow of loss. It was validation for losing Todd.”

She added that she hopes to see a resurgence of American pride.

“That day is here again, and I hope that we don’t lose that excitement for America. We are an awesome country,” she said.

Lance Zaal ’09, an M.B.A. student and founder of the Veterans Society of William & Mary, noted that “no amount of killing, including that of bin Laden, will ever undo all of the death and destruction that he caused to our country and throughout the world.”

“However, his passing provides a sense of closure for many who volunteered to serve our country in response to the 9/11 attacks and made selfless sacrifices to support our nation's war effort,” said Zaal, who served in the Marine Corps. “This is especially true for those of us who suffered through the crucible of multiple combat tours.”

Zaal said that, personally, he was happy to hear the news; bin Laden had changed his life forever.

“But his death can never bring back my friends that were killed, will never heal my injuries, and will never give me back four years of my youth,” he said “But his death does provide a sense of closure.”

Jim Ducibella contributed to this story