Lori Guadagno believes her brother was looking out for her, even in his death.
Hours before President Barack Obama stepped to a White House podium Sunday evening to announce that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden -- the man who orchestrated the terrorist attacks that killed Lori Guadagno's brother, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge manager Richard Guadagno, and thousands of others on Sept. 11, 2001 -- Lori Guadagno said she had a feeling something big was coming.
In the years since her brother died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania, Lori Guadagno said she has thought of him daily, remembering his passion for the environment and conservation, his love of dogs and the enthusiasm he brought to his everyday life.
”Ten years ago can feel like yesterday -- the pain is still very palpable and the loss is still there,” said Lori Guadagno, who lives in Florida. “It's just part of my makeup now. I think of him every day but, fortunately, I'm at a place in my life where I don't think about 9/11 every single day anymore. ... I rarely tear up. It doesn't mean he's not with me all the time, but I've found ways to deal with the sadness.”
Something was different on Saturday, however, she said. First, there was the article she came across about a wildlife refuge where her brother once worked. Then, came another environmental story aligned with Richard Guadagno's interests.
As Lori Guadagno watched the show, she wept.
Sunday morning, she went to the beach with some friends. In a rare show of emotion, she cried, telling them her memories, her thoughts and her feelings. She also confided another feeling that was more nebulous.
”I said, 'I just have a feeling that something is going to happen -- that something really big is going to happen -- and that Richard is trying to tell me something,'” she said.
Hours later, upon hearing the news that bin Laden was dead, Lori Guadagno said she knew what her brother had been trying to tell her.
”I think Rich just wanted me to be prepared,” she said.
Richard Guadagno worked as a federal employee for 17 years, the last year and a half in Humboldt County, where he worked, tirelessly by all accounts, to build a refuge headquarters that now bears his name. Co-workers, friends and family remembered him as someone who lived by his principles, was passionate about his work and enthusiastic.
He was flying back to the West Coast after a two-week vacation visiting family in New Jersey and Vermont when terrorists, under the direction of bin Laden, hijacked his flight.
But unlike hijacked planes flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Richard Guadagno's flight came down in a field in Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone on board. Those who knew him insist Richard Guadagno was one of the passengers who fought back against the terrorists, causing the plane to crash in that field instead of its intended target, which some believe was the White House.
”Rich died a hero on Flight 93, one of many who prevented further tragedy at the cost of their own lives,” said Steve Thompson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California Operations manager, at the time.
Lori Guadagno said she believes the same.
”What he did on that flight that day led to the saving of many, many lives,” she said. “There's no question in my mind. ... He was a good person, and one of those that you feel is sorely missed in the world. He was needed.”
Lori Guadagno said she's still processing Sunday's news, but said it brings her some peace of mind.
”Certainly, I'm not in a place where I feel like celebrating or dancing in the streets,” she said. “This has really brought to the forefront a lot of very painful memories, and it or nothing else can really bring my brother back. But it does bring a bit of healing.
”I'm very grateful to the special operations that made this possible and to the diligence of our president for making this happen,” Lori Guadagno continued.
Lori Guadagno said she will continue to think of her brother all the time -- to see him in birds protecting their nests, in waves breaking on the shore and in all the natural beauty he so loved. She will also try to honor his death in her life.
”When I look at nature, I see him and I hear him,” Lori Guadagno said. “It's just important that, in some way, I can keep his legacy and mission alive in how I choose to live my life.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or email@example.com.