|University Park Loses Five
to Pentagon Disaster|
Capital News Service
Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001
ANNAPOLIS - University Park is a safe town. The eight police officers handle
fewer than 100 crimes a year, and the 2,300 residents haven't seen a murder
Then came Sept. 11. The insular brick-and-stone community in Prince George's
County was shocked into understanding it is not immune from the dangers of
the outside world.
When American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon that day, University Park
lost five of its own: Charles Falkenberg and Leslie Whittington of Tennyson
Street were on the Los Angeles-bound flight with their two daughters, Zoe,
8, and Dana, 3. Sheila Hein of Sheridan Street was working an internship
inside the building.
It is the disaster's largest toll on any single Maryland town to date.
"I don't think there's ever been anything like this happening to the
community before," said University Park Mayor John Brunner. "You'd
have to go back to World War II to find [a loss] like this.... But never in
a single incident."
News spread quickly that Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as neighbors
pieced together - before any names were released to the public - that their
friends likely were among the victims of the Pentagon attack.
Wednesday night, Sept. 12, nearly 600 shaken neighbors gathered in the
basement of Riverdale Presbyterian Church, the town's makeshift community
center. They came with food and prayers for their absent friends.
"It was very spontaneous, we literally started spreading the
word," said Beth Rhodes, president of the University Park Civic
Association and friend of the Falkenbergs. "We were prepared to not see
them for a year," Rhodes said of her friends.
The family was headed for Australia, where Whittington, a Georgetown
University economics teacher, was to spend the next few months of her
sabbatical. The Wednesday before the crash, a group of University Park women
in the town's babysitting cooperative took Whittington out for a farewell
dinner. The men treated Falkenberg, a software designer, to a dinner the
"We...had a lot of time to reflect on how much they meant to us,"
At Sheila Hein's house, a few blocks away from the Falkenbergs' home, the
tree in the front yard has a yellow ribbon tied around it. The driveway and
the curbside out front fill up with cars at night.
"They've had a lot of friends coming by," said neighbor John Aler.
"They are terrific neighbors."
Hein and her partner, Peg Neff, moved into their house nearly a decade ago.
It had been rented out to students before they came, and it was, in Aler's
words, "a mess."
"You can't believe what a jungle it was," Aler said. "Sheila
and Peggy bought it and really just worked wonders with it. They love their
Hein, in particular, worked to transform the back yard into a garden that's
famous throughout University Park.
Since the attacks, Sheila Hein has not been memorialized in town to the
extent that the Falkenberg family has, in part because her death has not yet
been confirmed. But Aler and Brunner, the mayor, say she is just as
"It's been hard," Aler said. "I think until we saw [Hein's]
picture in the Post, we had really been holding out hope."
University Park is working hard to handle the loss of both the Falkenberg
family and Hein. Residents turned out in huge numbers at the nearby Red
Cross to donate blood, Brunner said.
The town plans to sponsor a full-page tribute to the University Park victims
in the local paper, Rhodes said. And the town council is already discussing
a permanent town memorial, Brunner said.
Even ex-residents are volunteering their help and condolences to the town.
"We have some professional grief counselors who used to live
here," Brunner said. "They heard about [the deaths] and
volunteered to come talk to people here."
The counselors spoke to children Thursday night at the Presbyterian Church.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a University Park homeowner, sent his wishes to
his neighbors. "When you take five confirmed deaths out of 2,200, it's
a very traumatic thing," Glendening said. "It's going to be
At University Park Elementary School, Zoe Falkenberg's classmates put
together a ceremony for Monday to remember her and the other victims of the
attack. For the past week, the school's fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders
have planned an hour-long celebration they named "Hope and
The mayor, police chief and a survivor of the Pentagon attack will
The students will read poems and essays and sing songs dedicated to the
victims, and they'll read a piece written by Zoe, who would have been in
Outside, they will plant a plum tree for Zoe, because she loved plums.
Principal Brenda Foxx said the tree was a great idea. "The kids came up
with that one."
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