Bin Laden’s death brought justice for Brady and Liz Howell

When news broke late Sunday that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a daring band of American Navy Seals, I couldn’t help but think of Liz Howell.

I wondered where she was when she heard the news. I wondered if she felt adulation, or satisfaction, or relief, or if it even made any difference at all.

It’s been probably 9 years since I’ve seen Liz, but I think about her a lot during these 9/11 milestones.

The truth is, Liz and I weren’t much more then professional acquaintances. If anything, we had a certain kinship that comes from being two newbie staffers on a congressional committee otherwise populated by grizzled political veterans with lots of gray hair.

When you are young, a long way from home and you don’t quite fit in, you tend to befriend others who are equally out of place.

That was about it for me and Liz Howell — that is, until that earth-shatteringly awful day when a cadre of radical Islamic jihadists murdered thousands of Americans — and changed a nation forever.

Today, 10 years removed from that treacherous morning, her face, her name, her story is the image that I carry from 9/11.

Searing. Haunting. Real.

For me, Liz Howell is 9/11.

It’s true what they say about the weather on that fateful morning in Washington, DC. It was amazing — more warm than hot. The skies were as blue, as the normally oppressive East Coast humidity was nowhere-to-be-found.

None of that mattered when news of a New York City attack raced through the fast-moving halls of Congress. When my clerk told me, I hustled back to my office and clicked on the news, only to learn from the trembling lips of NBC war correspondent Jim Miklaszewski that the Pentagon had been attacked as well.

Audible panic filled the marble halls, as staffers and members of Congress raced out of the grand buildings that dot the Capitol complex.

As my staff and I joined the mob en route to the nearest exit, I saw a familiar face just standing there amid a sea of charging bodies: Liz Howell.

When I saw her, I immediately stopped.

The Pentagon was attacked. Miklaszewski had said so. And Liz’s husband worked at the Pentagon.

A swarm of other staffers similarly screeched their evacuation dash to a halt upon the same realization, encircling Liz, asking her what she knew and what she had heard.

Any news?


Has he called?


Silence. Silence. Silence.

It’s OK, Liz. Everything will be OK.

Then off the panicked horde went to the doors of evacuation.

But for Brady Howell — and for Liz Howell in a different but just as real way — there would be no evacuation.

Our instinctive assurances — everything will be OK! — were wrong.

For Liz Howell, everything was not OK.

Brady Howell, who was interning at the time with a defense intelligence service at the Pentagon, was among the 180-some-odd Pentagon staff and other personnel who lost their lives when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 thundered into the building that morning.

Brady Howell was an Eagle Scout, a student body president, a graduate student getting ready to storm the world — chart his own course, with his wife, Liz, by his side.

But there would be no storming, no charting, no tomorrow for Brady Howell. He was murdered — cheated out of living — by Osama bin Laden and his jihadist deputies. If memory serves, Brady was the same age as me, 26 at the time. That would make him 35 today.

The world has changed profoundly between then and now, of course. And the truth is, I don’t even know where Liz is anymore.

Still, all these years later, I couldn’t help but think of Liz Howell when President Obama broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death on Sunday.

How did we get him? What does it mean? How will the Arab street react? Is this proof we can actually win the War on Terror? Should the U.S. government show pictures of Osama’s body?

These are all questions that bear an asking and deserve an answer. But for me, at least on this Sunday night, that wasn’t what was on my mind at all. The only thing on my mind was that — at long last — America had exacted justice for Brady and Liz Howell. Osama’s death may or may not change the course of events or history, but on this night, justice for Liz and Brady was more than enough.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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