HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—When he moved out of the second-floor efficiency at the Bimini Motel Apartments, Waleed M. Alshehri did something most of Joanne Solic's tenants don't bother to do: He rang the office bell, handed her the key and thanked her for her hospitality.
"Most people just dump the key in the room, so I thought it was very nice of him," said Solic, who owns the stucco motel, one of scores like it along Florida's East Coast. "He seemed so quiet, so polite--just a normal young pilot. When I changed the towels in the room, the clothes were always neatly stacked.
In towns in New Jersey, California, Virginia and especially Florida, residents over the weekend grappled with the notion that hijackers lived quietly in their communities for months before Tuesday's attack.
It left many of those people, already grieving with the rest of the nation, feeling uneasy.
From grief to guilt
A landlord of one suspected hijacker became ill at the news, neighbors said. Some whose lives had intersected with the hijackers for even a few moments found themselves replaying every interaction, searching for a clue that could have revealed the men for who they would turn out to be.
A few said they felt guilty to have even unknowingly helped the men by opening their homes and businesses to them. "I don't know what you could do, so long as people pay their rent, but did they have to be here?" Solic asked.
The 19 hijackers managed to escape notice in transient towns like Hollywood by being quiet and average.
Most rarely spoke to neighbors, beyond quick hellos. They dressed in blue jeans and polo shirts, and wore their hair short. Then they moved on.
"The only connection I thought I had to this was patriotism," said Denise Adair, who lives near a San Diego house where two of the suspected hijackers were boarders for at least a month. "Then, to find out the hijackers lived next door."
Memories yield clues
In hindsight, plenty of people who came in contact with the men now remember little details--hints, they say, that something was awry.
Landlords noted that the men never used the phones. They often paid in cash. They often gathered late at night.
At one apartment complex in Delray Beach, Fla., two neighbors said they regularly heard odd, late-night "banging noises" coming from one of the suspects' apartments. "Like a hammer hitting metal," Randy Ferris recalled, "but you can't very well call the police for that. Believe me, I wish I had."
Henry George, owner of a flight school in Opa-Locka, Fla., was shaken by the thought that the two men he trained on 727 flight simulators last Dec. 29th and 30th might have used his lessons last Tuesday. They seemed more interested in simply flying the plane and doing turns, George said, than in takeoffs or landings.
Now, he suspects he knows why. "I'm going to have to live with this," said George.
Authorities said seven of the men lived in Delray Beach at one point or another. The town, north of Ft. Lauderdale, was the first Florida town to win an All-America City designation twice--most recently, this year.
Over the weekend, some South Florida library officials told authorities that some suspects may have used computers at three local branches in the months leading up to the attack.