Teen pilot whose note expressed support for bin Laden remembered as a patriot

Monday, January 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The 15-year-old who crashed a small plane into a skyscraper was a former flag-bearer at school assemblies who wanted to join the Air Force, the boy's teachers said Monday.

Police said Charles Bishop left behind a note expressing support for Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks _ news that stunned one educator who remembered him for singing patriotic songs.

``I can picture him singing ``My Country 'Tis of Thee,' bellowing it out. He was proud to be an American,'' said Dale Porter, former head master at the private school where Bishop attended eighth grade.

In a statement Monday, Bishop's family said they were devastated by their loss and grateful no one else was harmed.

``Charles and his family have always fully supported our United States' war on terrorism and Osama Bin Laden,'' they said in the statement. ``We do not understand why or how this incident happened.''

Authorities said Bishop had no known terrorist ties.

Tampa police said it appeared he deliberately flew the Cessna 172R into the 42-story Bank of America Plaza on Saturday after ignoring signals to land from a Coast Guard helicopter. He was the only fatality when the plane slammed into the 28th floor.

About 20 students met with grief counselors Monday at East Lake High, where Bishop was a freshman, said Ron Stone, a spokesman for Pinellas County School District.

Gabriella Terry, Bishop's journalism teacher, said her class often discussed the Sept. 11 attacks and that Bishop was saddened by them.

``He told me he wanted to join the U.S. Air Force because he wanted to do something good for his country. He was a good boy,'' Terry said. ``The picture that is being portrayed of him is not the person that we knew and loved.''

Teachers at the private school said Bishop coordinated a holiday literary magazine, entered essay contests sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution and helped plan bake sales and food drives while serving on the student council.

Bishop volunteered to serve as a flag bearer at morning assemblies, standing taut while singing ``The Star Spangled Banner,'' ``America the Beautiful'' and ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic.''

Instructors at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport, where Bishop took off in the plane before a flight lesson was to begin, said the teen-ager was an aspiring pilot who washed airplanes to earn lessons.

Robert Cooper, who owned the flight school where Bishop began taking lessons in March, said he doubted the sincerity of Bishop's note and said the boy had expressed anger and disgust at the Sept. 11 attacks.

``I would call him a relatively typical gangly, intelligent, articulate 15-year-old with a complexion problem and a passion for flying,'' Cooper said. ``There are a million kids out there like that.''

David Cunningham, the school's operations manager, remembered taking Bishop out for a flight to celebrate straight A's on his report card in December. Cunningham said Bishop recently learned he had been accepted in a program for honors students to travel to Australia next summer.

``He was all pumped up about it. It looked like things were looking up for him,'' said Cunningham, who wrote Bishop's letter of recommendation.