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[whitespace] Los Gatos Mourns Death of Native

Los Gatos--In the days following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., family and friends of Los Gatos High School graduate Mark Bingham struggled to mourn his death amidst a barrage of media requests.

Bingham was 31 years old when he went down aboard United Airlines flight 93 in one of the most horrifying days in American history. Those who knew him, however, are convinced that he led a full life that ended in an act of heroism.

"I would like the world to remember Mark," said his mother, Alice Hoglan. "I'm so overjoyed to have been his mother."

Born in 1970 to parents who would soon be divorced, Bingham and his mother lived all over the South before they settled in Redwood Estates when he was around 13 years old.

"We called him Bruiser when he was a little kid," said Bingham's uncle, Los Gatos optometrist Lee Hogland. Even as a child, Bingham was big for his age--he grew to a height of 6 feet, 5 inches as an adult--and was always ready to roughhouse. "He was more like a little brother to us than a nephew," Lee Hoglan said.

Bingham was the "new kid" in the eighth-grade class at Fisher Middle School when Damon Billian approached him and asked him to play football. "Of course, he runs into a pole, trying to catch a pass that first day," Billian said. The two quickly formed a bond--"Mark had a habit of mouthing off to bullies," Billian said, but Billian was the one who would end up in fights.

At Los Gatos High School, Bingham discovered rugby. He played for the school and was captain of the team in college. Along with his involvement in sports, Bingham joined the school's yearbook staff and was socially active. "His high school experience was very good overall," Alice Hoglan said.

"He was very unique," said classmate Tammy Byrnes. Byrnes says that Bingham didn't fit into any of the stereotypical categories at school--he wasn't the "typical jock," nor was he the artsy type.

Classmate Myla Herbert remembers Bingham as "just a really great guy in general." Herbert wasn't extremely close to Bingham--they were in Spanish class together through most of high school--and hadn't seen him for three years, but said, "He's one of those people that once you meet him, you always consider him a friend. I just always figured I'd see him again."

Mali Taylor met Bingham on the school bus when she was 15 years old. "He said to me, 'Your hair is pretty and soft,'" Taylor said. Then Bingham said, "My friends told me I should say that to a girl." The two dated for a few months and remained close friends after he graduated in 1988 and when they attended UC-Berkeley together.

In college, Bingham went public with his homosexuality when he had his first serious relationship. "We went out for coffee," Taylor said. "He said, 'You know that girl, Christina, that I've been dating? Well, it's actually Chris.' And I was like, 'Oh...now everything makes sense!'"

Billian says that Bingham was president of Chi Psi fraternity and that the position developed the leadership skills in him that would later help him professionally. Billian, along with their two closest buddies, would often visit Bingham at college. "I'm just totally glad that we had a chance to solidify our friendship after high school," Billian said.

After receiving his degree in international relations, Bingham worked for several different companies, including Sun Microsystems. Several years ago, Bingham decided to start his own public relations firm in San Francisco, which built up a list of clientele from the high-tech industry. The company recently opened a second branch in New York. As a result, Bingham commuted frequently and kept apartments in both cities.

Although Bingham worked hard, he evidently had a sense of adventure. Both Alice and her sister Candyce Hoglan are flight attendants for United Airlines, and Bingham went on overseas trips using their frequent flyer miles. This summer, he went to Spain and Italy, where he "got drunk on sangria" and went running with the bulls.

Lee Hoglan recalls the time when someone tried to break into Bingham's car. Instead of calling for help, Bingham's "daredevil" attitude led to him jump the perpetrator and beat him up.

For the past few months, Alice Hoglan has been living at her brother Vaughn's house in Saratoga. In March, she acted as a surrogate mother for Vaughn and his wife, Kathy, for the second time; she gave birth to triplet boys. After the birth, she stayed on to help with the boys and with their two 2-year-old girls, one of whom she had also carried.

Early in the morning on Sept. 11, Bingham called the Saratoga house from the airplane. First he spoke with his aunt Kathy, and then he asked for his mother. He told them that his plane had been hijacked by three men who said that they had a bomb. He also said that he loved them. Then the phone went dead.

The women called the FBI before they turned on the television and realized the extent of the situation. "Mark was just a piece of the mosaic," Alice Hoglan said. "By that time, flight 93 was a big crater in Somerset County, Pennsylvania."

Family members said that they believe that, with his "take-charge" personality, Bingham was instrumental in bringing the plane down by somehow struggling with the hijackers.

As news of Bingham's involvement leaked out, the house was inundated by calls from friends and members of the press. On Sept. 12, the Hoglans gave interviews from about 2 a.m. into the evening hours.

Alice Hoglan, Billian said, is still in a state of shock. After all the media left on Sept. 12, Billian talked with her, and "that's when it started to hit her." At the same time, those who knew Bingham are trying to see the good in his death. "Even though the terrorists took his life, they can't take away our memories," Billian said.
Gloria I. Wang

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Web extra to the September 20-26, 2001 issue of Metro.

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