DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - Delray Beach is known as the Village by the Sea, but 10 years ago it harbored several of the hijackers behind the 9/11 attacks. Those unexpected ties to terrorism have left their mark on the community.
They were living among us - eating in our restaurants, working out at our gyms, renting our properties. Jackie Allen is haunted by the fact she leased out a property to Marwan al-Shehhi, the hijacker-pilot who flew United Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center. At 23, the United Arab Emirates native was the youngest hijacker in the attacks.
"It's sad to even be associated with that. It will never go away," said Allen.
For three months, al-Shehhi lived at the Hamlet Country Club off Atlantic Avenue. Allen only met him once, when the toilet inside his unit broke.
"The gentleman met me at the door, he sat down immediately, he put his hands in his lap, he put his eyes down, he never looked at me," said Allen.
Al-Shehhi and the other hijackers may have been trying to keep a low profile, but the FBI traced their steps all around Delray Beach. They used the computers at the public library, and stopped into Huber's pharmacy asking for hand cream.
Just weeks before the attack, hijackers rented a single-engine plane at the Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana. The killers were in our backyards… yet no one knew. For those living near Delray Beach now, it's a harsh truth to accept.
"That's even worse, yeah. Something could've, should've been done to prevent that from happening. It's all hindsight of course," said Richard Higgins while visiting Delray Beach.
"Knowing that something of massive proportions could come from your small town, it's kind of… an unsettling feeling," said Lisa Danks, a Delray Beach native.
It wasn't until after the horrific events of September 11th unfolded that Allen realized how close she came to mass murderers. That she had spoken to one, even tried to help fix his toilet, which she later learned he had destroyed himself. Al-Shehhi left the Hamlet apartment in August. When Allen went in to clean, she found white power on the floor.
"All around the toilet was this talcum powder and I thought, what did they have on the floor? So I put my finger and smelled it, I almost tasted it but didn't," said Allen.
At the time Allen didn't think much of it, but as the FBI swarmed the apartment, it hit her.
"That's when we went, wholly cow! That's probably how they blew the toilet out of the concrete, it was a brand new toilet," said Allen.
A decade later, Allen now lives a quiet life in Delray Beach with her pets, but she still wonders, what if? She insists nothing about her encounter with al-Shehhi was suspicious, but that doesn't ease the pain.
"To be personally touched is not a good thing. It's a whole in your heart," she said.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
One person will win a three-year lease on a 2013 Honda Civic Lx Sedan automatic.
Click to see the latest mugshots, plus this week's wanted fugitives.
This feature packed upgrade brings you faster performance, easier navigation, and stunning improvements to photos, video and readability.
Latest Local News Stories