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Shore senator reflects on 9/11 experience at Pentagon

OCEAN CITY — An Eastern Shore state lawmaker who was working in the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, reminisced in a recent interview about her experience on that fateful day in American history.

Mary Beth Carozza, who represents District 38 as the State Senator, was serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for House Affairs for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2001 to 2003.

On the morning of Sept. 11, she and her coworkers were preparing for a Congressional briefing on missile defense for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz when they received word of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.

When the second plane hit, they knew it was an intentional act. “We immediately shifted gears ... knowing that we would be called up to Capitol Hill to answer who was behind the terrorist attack,” she said.

During the meeting, they heard a sound and felt the shudder of the building. Being on the far opposite side of the world’s largest office building, it was not immediately clear what happened.

“I stood up and said I was going to find out what was going on,” she said. She stepped out into the hallway where she discovered the building was being evacuated, “I thought it was out of an abundance of caution.”

There was a military orderliness to the crisis: “There wasn’t a panic in the evacuation, we were just moving fast, moving out.”

Carozza said her group still did not realize the building had been hit even as they exited. “It didn’t hit us until we turned around and realized the other side of the Pentagon was smoking and on fire.”

Word came there was a fourth hijacked plane, and the building’s occupants continued the evacuation in anticipation of another Washington building being a target, a concern that persisted until fighter jets appeared on the horizon to patrol the Capital airspace.

Carozza, seeking to assist in some way, headed to the courtyard at the center of the massive five-sided structure and began assisting setup of a temporary morgue.

Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Pete Garrett called Carozza and said Rumsfeld wanted his legislative liaisons prepping to share whatever knowledge the military had with the lawmakers. “We were immediately trying to do our own small part,” she said.

Some of the Congressional leaders joined Rumsfeld later in the day for a press conference, an event the Defense Secretary insisted on, as Carozza put it, “To show the world that we might’ve been hit, but we were up and running.”

“I think that was a very powerful message to send at that point,” Carozza said.

When she left work close to 1 a.m., Carozza went to see the emergency responders still battling the inferno.

“I was very moved by those firefighters, they were fighting their hearts out,” she said.

Carozza and 23,000 other people returned to work the next day. Beyond the lives lost and damage done– nothing was the same.

“Our role had changed, and we were now totally focused on a war on terror,” she said.

Her job evolved with a new DoD mission, and included taking members of Congress on tours to see the 24 hours a day construction to meet Rumfeld’s goal of fully rebuilding the damaged structure within one year.

Her service took her to Guantanamo Bay with members of Congress where she witnessed “the pure hatred” in the eyes of the detainees, a sight that convinced her of their intent to kill Americans. Some of those detainees have been released since, some returning to the Afghanistan, others to positions of leadership in the Taliban.

Her concern for the safety of Americans at home and abroad is unchanged. “Approaching this Sept. 11 anniversary, it’s very concerning as far as the dangers for Americans in Afghanistan right now, and stateside, for us to be vigilant with the 20th anniversary coming up,” Carozza said.

During a visit by President George W. Bush in the days following the attack, Carozza joined other members of the senior DOD staff in listening to his remarks.

“On the heels of a terrorist attack, we will have overwhelming support from the American people and from Congress to fight the war against terror and too rebuild,” Carozza recalled Bush saying, “However, our challenge will be to keep the long term vigilance against a patient enemy who is determined to destroy our way of life.”

“Everything President Bush said then is just as true today,” she added.

Carazzo took an offer in 2003 from newly elected Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich as a Deputy Chief of Staff who worked on researching and establishing a robust and more effective homeland security apparatus at the state level.

She was seated in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014 and became a State Senator in 2019 after defeating the incumbent in her district.

“I believe I have an obligation to tell the story,” she said, when asked if it was difficult to talk about the experience.

Carozza said her mission would be fulfilled, “If I can play a small role in sharing a message ... that will help educate Americans that this is a continual war on terror, that there is not artificial deadline for the terrorists, and we must keep up our vigilance to protect our American way of life.”

Mike Detmer is a staff writer for the Dorchester Star and Star Democrat based in Maryland. You can reach him at mdetmer@chespub.com.

COVID numbers high in Dorchester jail

CAMBRIDGE — COVID numbers are relatively high in Dorchester County’s jail, according to the state website that tracks the numbers of cases.

Of the 101 active cases in Dorchester County, six people are currently hospitalized, and the online tracker for Maryland’s congregate living facilities showed the COVID numbers as of Sept. 8 included cases at the Dorchester County Detention Center (cases were also active at Eastern Shore Hospital Center in Cambridge).

Portions of court proceedings on Wednesday morning, Sept. 8, in the Dorchester County District Court made reference to elevated COVID cases at the jail, with one attorney asking for a modification of bail for his client based on widespread instances of COVID in the jail. Another inmate was unable to come to the video conference area in the jail due to the area he was being held.

COVID precautions at the jail have been maintained throughout the pandemic, with PPE and physical distancing standards in place, as well as quarantine procedures for new arrivals to the facility, among other measures, according to staff.

Dorchester County State’s Attorney Bill Jones said he is aware of the COVID numbers at the facility and has worked with law enforcement in the county to incorporate summonses, citations and other ways to charge when appropriate rather than a physical arrest.

Jones said maintaining the safety of the detention center, including COVID cases, is part of a “balancing act” that impacts public safety throughout the community.

Mike Detmer is a staff writer for the Dorchester Star and Star Democrat based in Maryland. You can reach him at mdetmer@chespub.com.

Caroline Circuit Judge Newell's paid leave extended further amid potential investigation

DENTON — Caroline County Circuit Judge Jonathan G. Newell’s paid leave of absence has been extended to Sept. 23, according to the Maryland Judiciary.

Judges from other jurisdictions will continue to cover Newell’s cases as they’ve been doing, said Bradley Tanner, a public information officer with the Maryland Judiciary.

Newell has been out of the courtroom on a paid leave of absence since July 26 following rumors of an alleged police investigation. Neighbors reported seeing at least eight police cars outside of Newell’s residence in Henderson around 5 a.m. on Saturday, July 24. It’s not clear what exactly was taken from the residence.

By Sept. 23, Newell will have spent just over eight weeks on paid leave.

Law enforcement agencies are not publicly sharing details and refuse to confirm, deny or comment on the situation, although a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said that his office is aware of an investigation. Newell has not been charged and there have not been any official details released on a potential investigation.

The (Baltimore) Sun reported Sept. 3 speaking to an anonymous law enforcement source, who said the investigation includes “allegations of illicit images of youth.”

The Sun also spoke with a reported victim’s parents, who told the paper that their son allegedly found a camera in the bathroom of a hunting lodge while he was there on a trip with Newell. The parents were also not named in the story.

Newell was appointed by Hogan as Caroline County’s only Circuit Court judge in August 2016. Before then, he served as state’s attorney in Caroline County for 13 years. Newell also served as a deputy state’s attorney in Kent County and an assistant public defender in Caroline County.

The judge has not commented on his leave or the potential investigation. A message to his lawyer remained unanswered by press time.