15 YEARS AFTER 9/11
Former sheriff shares his memory of Sept. 11
Following the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies around the country — and especially the Metropolitan area — entered a heightened state of vigilance, fearing that another terrorist attack might be attempted. With the nation’s capital a short distance away, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office under then Sheriff Fred Davis, redoubled its watch and joined forces with other local, state and federal agencies to ensure the safety of the citizens.
Days before the attack, Davis’ niece, Angela Houtz, watched as her uncle was sworn in as president of the Maryland Sheriff’s Association during the annual conference in Ocean City. Houtz, a 27-year-old La Plata native, worked at the Pentagon as a senior Naval intelligence analyst.
After the sheriffs conference had ended, Davis stayed for the conference of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
He remembers all too well how he first learned of the planes colliding into the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11.
“I was in my room over at the conference getting dressed and I had a TV on as I always do in the morning, watching the news,” he recalled. “… Shocked is not the word; I was just devastated when I saw that.”
The conference was adjourned early and the law enforcement leaders returned to their respective jurisdictions with plans to reconvene in the following days.
Davis returned to Charles County, he said, and immediately got his command staff organized and discussed what needed to be done as a local sheriff’s office. A briefing was given, and updates were given to personnel every day as more information was shared with the agency, he said. Patrol officers were told to keep a watchful eye out for any suspicious activity, especially given the transient nature of the community.
“It’s one of those things, you just look for anything that’s unusual, anything that looks suspicious, period,” he said. “And of course, with [U.S.] 301 being a major [highway], we had all the uniformed guys keeping eyes out, looking for different things that may indicate anything that’s unusual.”
“And we were getting briefings all along on the people involved in the attacks,” Davis continued, “and what … the setup was, as far as where they were living, where they were located, and that kind of stuff.”
In addition, chaplains would attend “roll call” to offer prayer and guidance as the patrol officers began their shifts.
After Davis finally returned home late on the night of the attacks, he got a call from his sister-in-law, he remembered. She told him that Houtz was missing and had been in that section of the Pentagon for an emergency meeting when the plane crashed into the side of the building.
Despite growing fears about his niece, Davis continued to fulfill his responsibilities as sheriff, and in the following days local, state and federal representatives from all over the Metropolitan area met and formed the Maryland Joint Terrorism Task Force. Though it is now known as the FBI Baltimore Joint Terrorist Task Force, it continues to operate today, working collaboratively with local, state and other federal agencies to protect Americans from threats to national security in Maryland and Delaware.
By the end of the week, though, the family knew for certain; Houtz had been one of the 125 killed inside the Pentagon.
The loss was hard on the family, Davis said, recalling the times she used to babysit for his three children as they grew up.
“They were very gracious about dealing with family,” Davis said. “They sent down a uniformed officer; her entire assignment was to spend time with Angela’s mom and dad, so she was there updating as much as she could.”
Houtz, who graduated from McDonough High School in 1992, was the salutatorian of her class.
“Angela was extremely active in her church and involved in many programs with special attention to feeding the homeless,” reads her Pentagon memorial biography. “She was dedicated to her family and friends, loved her country and her job, and was considered a ‘shipmate’ by her Navy co-workers.”
As the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, Davis’ and Houtz’s stories serve as a reminder of the personal loss that so many families still endure today, while showing, too, the fortitude and resiliency of the nation’s peacekeepers.