'Thank God he's dead'

Barbara Geidel didn't mince words when asked about her reaction to the news that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been killed.

"Thank God he's dead," said the Seiad Valley, Calif., resident.

Since Sept. 1, 2001, she and her husband, Ralph, had hoped justice would be brought to the terrorist believed to be the mastermind of the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people that day, including New York City firefighter Gary Geidel, Ralph's brother. Gary was killed after responding with Rescue One to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers.

"Our first reaction was, 'They finally got bin Laden — American justice does prevail,'" she said Monday morning.

"And then we started thinking about Gary and his family — his wife and daughter," she added. "The roller coaster of emotions started all over again."

The Geidels were not the only ones in far Northern California directly impacted by the attack that day.

Eureka resident Richard Guadagno, 38, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager and law enforcement officer, was aboard hijacked United Fight 93 when it crashed in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11.

Coworkers and friends said at the time that the unmarried outdoorsman likely was one of the passengers who tried to wrest control of the plane from the terrorist hijackers before it crashed. His parents and sister live in Florida.

For the Geidels, there were both tears of relief that bin Laden had been found and killed and of sadness that so many people have died because of him, Barbara said.

"I've cried for our loss, for everyone who has been killed in the towers and the planes — for the loss of lives in our military, for the death of Ground Zero responders like Gary," she said. "And I've cried tears of joy this evil man is gone from this world. It is justice. Our loved ones were murdered by him."

The fact that bin Laden was killed during a raid by elite U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan instead of being brought to trial is immaterial, she said.

"The way it was handled was perfect," she said. "We never, never gave up hope they would get him. We knew he would eventually meet his end. We are glad the Navy Seals with the help of the CIA and other intelligence agencies were able to do this. We knew our military would prevail."

But bin Laden's death doesn't end the story for the Geidel family, or the threat of terrorism, she said.

"It never ends for us," she said. "We don't use the word 'closure.' It's not in our vocabulary. Gary is one of over 1,100 victims whose body was never identified."

Marine Corps veteran Ralph Geidel, an NYC firefighter until he was sidelined by a knee injury, spent nine months searching at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood to try to find his brother's remains.

For the Geidels, serving as a NYC Rescue One firefighter is a family tradition, she explained. Ralph and Gary's father retired from the department; their brother, Mike, is still a Rescue One firefighter.

But Ralph's time spent inhaling dust and smoke at the site nearly cost him his life, she said, noting he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003. The Geidels believe his cancer was directly linked to his time spent at Ground Zero.

Ralph Geidel, now 53, underwent surgery and radiation treatment in Medford for his illness, and will return for a checkup next week.

"He is still dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 — the toxins he inhaled have affected his health," his wife said.

Yet she is quick to observe that the terrorist attack impacted the lives of all Americans, from the passage of the Patriot Act to encountering tighter security when traveling.

"The whole world changed on 9/11," she said. "But for our family, what bin Laden did hurt us directly. My niece had to grow up without a father. There is a giant hole in our lives. We will never, ever forget.

"But," she added, "justice has finally been done."

Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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