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Cops: Teen Pilot Supported bin Laden

January 7, 2002

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The 15-year-old who crashed a small plane into a skyscraper wrote a note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden and support for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, police said Sunday.

The short, handwritten suicide note found in Charles Bishop’s pocket said he acted alone, Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder said. The high school freshman had no apparent terrorist ties, Holder said.

``Bishop can best be described as a young man who had very few friends and was very much a loner,″ Holder said. ``From his actions we can assume he was a very troubled young man.″

Bishop crashed the Cessna 172R into the 42-story Bank of America building after taking off without authorization and ignoring signals to land from a Coast Guard helicopter that pursued the plane. Bishop was the only fatality.

Holder said there is no indication Bishop specifically targeted the building or ``had any intention of harming anyone else.″

Investigators on Sunday interviewed the boy’s family and said they would search his personal computer for evidence.

Bishop, of Palm Harbor, was told to check the plane’s equipment before the start of a flying lesson Saturday, police said. He took off without waiting for an instructor who was supposed to accompany him.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew motioned for the boy to land but couldn’t get a response, and a pair of military jets scrambled to intercept the small plane arrived after the crash.

``There was no doubt he died on impact,″ said Fire Department Capt. Bill Wade.

Fire department officials said damage to the building was limited to the office where the plane hit and small areas of adjoining floors. Most of the building was expected to be open Monday, though there was concern about chunks of the facade falling to the sidewalk below.

Images of the plane blasting a hole in the side of a skyscraper were chilling reminders of the World Trade Center attacks. Until it was pulled in early Sunday, the plane’s tail had dangled from the 28th floor of the building.

In Palm Harbor, police unrolled yellow crime scene tape Sunday outside the apartment complex where Bishop lived with his mother, while detectives and FBI agents interviewed family members.

Julia Bishop, the boy’s mother, told a camera crew to ``get out″ when they attempted to film her as she opened her door for investigators.

Bishop’s grandmother had taken him to the National Aviation Academy flight school at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for a 5 p.m. flying lesson on Saturday, authorities said.

A Coast Guard helicopter caught up to Bishop over Tampa after he had traveled about 20 miles, and the crew signaled for him to land. Pilots said he ignored them, then crashed the plane into the building.

As a precaution, two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled from Homestead Air Reserve Base, 200 miles away, but they arrived after the crash, said Capt. Kirstin Reimann at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Only a few people were in the building at the time of the crash. None were injured.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Tita said there was no record of the ninth grader running into problems with the law in the past.

Derek Perryman, a classmate of Bishop’s at East Lake High School in Palm Harbor, about 25 miles west of Tampa, said Bishop often talked about planes with a friend in their journalism class.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, Bishop read a paper to the class. ``It was real expressive about how he felt, how disappointed he was,″ Perryman said.

Another classmate, Ross Stewart, 15, described Bishop as a ``teacher’s pet.″

``I knew he was an honor student. He got straight A’s,″ Stewart said. ``He seemed to like his classes. He liked school. He was a happy kid. He was never really down about anything. He smiled a lot.″

Neighbors said Bishop, who had moved from the Boston area a year earlier, kept to himself.

``He rode my bus to school. He sat in the front row. He always had sunglasses on for some reason,″ said David Ontiveros, 14. ``He never talked to anybody.″

Bev Pinkham, who lived near the Bishops in Norwell, Mass., said Bishop ``was just an ordinary quiet kid.″

``One day he came over and said my flower gardens were beautiful,″ she said. ``Other than that, he was very quiet.″

Michael Cronin, an attorney for the National Aviation Academy, said Bishop had been taking flying lessons since March 2001 and had logged about six hours of flight time.

He said the boy often cleaned planes in exchange for flight time and was very familiar with operations at the school. Cronin said students do preflight equipment checks on their own, then have their accuracy verified by an instructor. Bishop was a year shy of being able to fly alone and two years too young to earn a pilot’s license.

President Bush was briefed on the incident and the White House officials had been in touch with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and the Federal Aviation Administration, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Two other small planes had crashed Saturday, one on a Colorado hillside near Boulder, and another in a vacant field near Los Angeles.

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