At 5 a.m. Monday, Michael Tuohey turned on his television and saw video of President Obama announcing that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
He pumped his fist in the air and shouted "Yes!" like many Americans had upon hearing the news. Like his countrymen, it took him back to September 11, 2001 - but not to the images of the twin towers or the Pentagon. Instead, he recalled the glaring eyes of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the group of hijackers, staring back at him at the US Airways counter at Portland (Maine) International Jetport before a flight to Boston about 5 a.m. September 11.
"I see his eyes all too often," Tuohey told CNN. "And of course I pictured them again (Monday). Unfortunately, I still get flashbacks."
Despite a gut feeling about Atta and traveling companion Abdulaziz Alomari, the ticket agent checked in the two men who would help bring al Qaeda international infamy on September 11. Tuohey said there was nothing the pair did that could elevate his concerns to the point where he wouldn't be able to issue a ticket: There wasn't a one-way ticket bought in cash or anything else actionable.
"They didn't walk up there green and try and pull this off," Tuohey told CNN affiliate WCSH. "They knew what I would be looking for. They knew what they wanted to hear. This was not a fly-by-night, 'let's walk up and see if we can do this.' "
So nearly 10 years later, the death of the man who indirectly sent the hijackers to his counter was met with happiness and a "sense of satisfaction."
"I was fist-pumping at 5 in the morning," Tuohey told CNN. "It brought me great joy."
Tuohey said that though he tries not to let the past get to him, he couldn't help but have strong emotions.
"I got a little choked up, because just knowing, you can't help but reflect back," he told CNN. "I thought about things that happened; it ran through my mind again: those people on the roof of the building, the terror and the horror that was in their mind at the time."Especially because in the immediate aftermath of September 11 and in the years following, Tuohey felt a great deal of guilt that, in a way, he had allowed two terrorists to take the lives of Americans.
"It was guilt only because, you know, tangentially, I was involved," Tuohey said. "Was there something that he said, either one of them? Should I have picked up on something?"
In 2005, Tuohey told CNN that he "felt ashamed that I did not react to my instincts."
"I was right. I was right," he said, adding that he knew something was off about the two men. "I don't know how you describe it, how your stomach twists and turns. You get sick to your stomach."
That personal connection makes bin Laden's death an especially sensitive topic for Tuohey.
"It doesn't help me. It makes me feel good," he said. "It's nice. It's a great feeling - he's dead."
Although he said there will never be closure, he was thrilled that the U.S. was finally able to bring the al Qaeda leader to justice.
"The way it happened made it even better," he said. "It was an American operation run by Americans, using American bullets, shooting into his Arabic head."
Hearing of how bin Laden had been killed, Tuohey said, he knows that even though he shouldn't think this way, he hoped the al Qaeda leader experienced some of the stinging emotions of those who lost loved ones on September 11.
"I hope he saw his son get killed. I hope he saw a soldier aiming a bullet at him," he said. "I wanted him to feel that sinking, awful, terrible feeling, even if it was just for a split second, that you saw your son lose your head, maybe.
"I just wanted him to be fearful and watching someone close to him die and turn and face a bullet, knowing he's going to die, to feel that fear that he inflicted on others and the pain he inflicted on thousands of people."
Today, he knows that he did practically everything he could September 11 - that he saw how the purchase date of the ticket and type weren't out of the norm - but he'll still bear the emotional scars for not stopping the hijackers. It's why he can't watch any video or see images of the attacks.
"I can't see it knowing that a person who I had standing in front of me several hours earlier was the leader of that whole (hijacking plan)," he told WSCH.
Perhaps it was coincidence that Tuohey went to bed Sunday unaware of the events, that he woke up about the same time he met the hijackers whose faces he can never forget and learned of their leader's death.
If nothing else, Tuohey said, it's why with those images in mind, he can celebrate revenge, even if it's not the right thing to do.
"I suffered anguish, and I still do," he said, making sure to note that it was not about closure for him. "But maybe, even just in a fleeting moment, I wanted him to feel that he was losing something precious to him, like a son, a life, like all the lives we lost that day."