LOCALS MOURN BIN LADEN’S VICTIMS

11-memorialToms River resident and Jersey City firefighter Mark Lee visited the memorial stone of his lifelong friend Paul Nimbley at Middletown’s September 11 memorial garden Monday, fresh off the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. armed forces. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Paul Nimbley and Mark Lee were like brothers. They grew up together, went to school together in Jersey City. Lee was Nimbley’s best man at his wedding.

Nearly 10 years ago, Nimbley was one of nearly 3,000 killed at the World Trade Center and two other locations in attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, the elusive-yet-ubiquitous face of 21st century terror who finally met his demise at the hands of U.S. special forces Sunday.

On the heels of that bittersweet news, Lee, a Jersey City firefighter, made a reflective, heart-wrenching trip to pay respects at his friend’s memorial stone at Middletown’s September 11 memorial garden Monday morning.

While there is no true closure in knowing that bin Laden’s reign as a mastermind of terror is over, it lifts a weight of uncertainty that bin Laden would ever face retribution for his horrors against humanity, Lee said.

“It still hurts. I lost my best friend,” Lee, of Toms River, said. “The world’s been changed by this, and now I think it’s better off.”

Nimbley, who at 42 was vice president of the Cantor Fitzgerald investment and banking firm, and was one of 37 Middletown residents who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks — the most per capita of any municipality in the nation — was remembered Monday by Lee as a kind man who loved his family and lived by a saying that’s inscribed on his memorial stone in Middletown: “You only live once, so make the best of it.”

“I wish it never happened to him. I wish he was still here enjoying his life,” Lee said, trembling and fighting off tears. “I’m very happy what happened to the person that did this to him.”

Nimbley’s cousin, John Monahan, also died in the attacks.

“It’s a good thing for (Paul) and his family,” Lee, 51, said. “This is good news, after 10 years, that we never gave up.”

As Lee said a prayer in front of Nimbley’s memorial stone and laid his hands on his friend’s portrait, Bob Bantos, of Middletown, walked through the memorial garden, which is located across from the town’s train station where many residents would make the daily commute to the World Trade Center, and took time to remember all the victims, specifically a friend’s cousin, Robert Emmett Parks Jr., “a dedicated, loving man with an infectious laugh and irresistible personality,” his stone reads.

Bantos, 49, is a 25-year veteran of Bayonne’s fire department, and said he thought he was dreaming when he heard bin Laden had finally been killed.

“Justice has been served on this chapter,” he said, “but I don’t think the book’s closed.”

Lee, who was interviewed by television news reporters Monday, stressed how thankful he is for the military members who’ve served the last decade as the country’s waged two wars in the name of fighting terrorism sparked by bin Laden, and praised the special forces that brought down public enemy No. 1.

“I just pray to God this never happens again,” he said.