15 YEARS AF­TER 9/11

For­mer sher­iff shares his mem­ory of Sept. 11

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

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.

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