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Arizona remembers on 10th anniversary of Sept. 11

PHOENIX — Gary Bird had just one short meeting at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — short enough to catch a flight home to Tempe and be with his wife and children by dinnertime.

He was on the 99th floor when the first plane slammed into north tower that morning, between the 93rd and 98th floors.

"For about eight days after the 11th, we kept hoping that he would emerge from the rubble," his wife, Donna Killoughey Bird, recently told The Associated Press. "Then after about seven or eight days you come to realize he would not be able to live."

Bird, who was 51, was the only Arizona resident killed in the terror attacks.

From Bird's wife and two now-adult children to a Phoenix firefighter who searched the World Trade Center rubble for possible survivors, 9/11 deeply affected many in Arizona.

And on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, they will remember.

Donna Killoughey Bird, 61, planned to go to a field of 3,000 flags and memorial placards at Tempe Town Lake on Saturday night and a remembrance ceremony Sunday at the state Capitol, where two spotlights representing the twin towers will shine into the Phoenix night sky.

Bird also will spend a few hours alone thinking of her husband and the 20 years they had together.

"He made me into the best version of myself," Bird said. "Each year when the anniversary comes up it's an opportunity to look back on the good times. My thoughts focus on the great relationship I had with him and how grateful I am I found the right guy."

Gary Bird was born in Cottonwood, and grew up on ranches and farms there, in Camp Verde, in Kingman and near the Colorado Rockies before going to the University of Arizona in Tucson.

He and Donna met in 1982 at a party that she didn't even want to go to, but after he approached her, the two talked for three hours. "I remember calling one of my girlfriends, and I said I had just met the guy I was going to marry," she said.

Bird still lives in Tempe. Her daughter, Amanda, who was 15 when her father was killed, is a marine biologist in Newport Beach, Calif. Her son Andrew, who was 13, is studying urban planning at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Other ceremonies Sunday include the unveiling of two new 9/11 memorials in the suburbs of Gilbert and Peoria, which both contain steel beams from ground zero.

Capt. Glenn Palmer of the Phoenix Fire Department said he planned to go to Sunday's Arizona Diamondbacks game, where Sen. John McCain will place a ball on the pitching mound to honor 9/11 victims and the Diamondbacks will pay tribute to military personnel and first responders.

Palmer, 54, spent 10 12-hour days at Ground Zero after the attacks searching through the 16-acre site for survivors, climbing over rubble, rappelling down into holes surrounded by debris and the ongoing digging.

"It was surreal almost every day when we went out on the pile and looked at the size of it, and tried to figure that there were several thousand people in there," he said. "It just made myself and everyone realize that we were a little more vulnerable."

In those 10 days, Palmer's team found part of a jaw bone, a rib and a piece of human tissue, but not one single survivor.

Palmer said he vividly remembers the raw grief on the faces of the New York firefighters whose friends and co-workers were killed trying to save others.

"You could see it in their faces, that they were bewildered and exhausted," he said. "It does show you that as a fireman, things can happen, things beyond your control, things beyond your training or knowledge."

James Turgal, special agent in charge of the FBI's operations in Arizona, had a similar realization.

Turgal, who was born and raised in Cave Creek and only recently moved back to Arizona, was in Washington, D.C. when a jetliner hit the Pentagon about a half-hour after the New York attack, killing 125 people on the ground and 64 inside the plane.

"You could see the smoke from FBI headquarters," Turgal said. "I guess I would call it very chaotic but sombering. We knew what was happening, we knew what had happened in New York by the time the plane hit the Pentagon, so it was a very difficult time for everybody there."

Turgal said he'll spend the 10th anniversary of the attacks working, along with almost everyone at the FBI.

"We're at a heightened state of alert," Turgal said. "Certainly there are organizations out there that could utilize this date as the date to make a statement or a name for themselves, absolutely."

But, he said, "Everybody is ready."

Turgal also spoke of major changes at the FBI since the attacks, including going from a strictly investigative agency to a threat-based intelligence-driven agency.

In Arizona, he said the FBI has two joint terrorism task forces, one in Phoenix and one in Tucson.

The Phoenix task force existed before 9/11, although it was much smaller.

A warning about Arabs training at U.S. flight schools came from an agent on that task force, Kenneth Williams, about two months before the terror attacks.

Williams later became the lead agent investigating Arizona's connection to the attacks, reviewing records and interviewing employees at a Phoenix aviation school where Saudi Arabian Hani Hanjour, one of the 9/11 terrorists, trained. Hanjour was one of the hijackers who crashed the plane into the Pentagon.

Turgal said Williams is still on the task force and described him as an exceptional agent.

He said a memo like Williams' would be treated differently now, 10 years after the attacks.

"I wouldn't say it got lost in the shuffle," Turgal said. "But we have a process and protocol for information flowing from field operations to headquarters level that are much better now than they were then."

On a personal level, Turgal said, "It's nice to be home for the 10th anniversary."

"It's nice to be the special agent in charge of the Phoenix division and just make certain nothing happens — that's what I'll be thinking that day."

Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at!/AmandaLeeAP