WHEELING - When West Virginia State Trooper Keith Castle sees ground zero for the first time today in New York City, he expects it to be an emotional experience.
At least that's what everyone tells him it will feel like.
Castle, 30, a Wheeling native, was scheduled to arrive at the site today after cycling there from Boston during the Tour de Force - a fundraiser ride that honors victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and raises money for families of police officers killed in the line of duty across the country. Castle raised $1,100.
Castle, whose State Police detachment is in Brooke County, said he cycles on a regular basis and participates in as many charity rides as possible. He was happy to get the chance to help officers' families with the Tour de Force.
"They told me I'm the first person from West Virginia to ever do" the tour, Castle said. "There's already two Wheeling troopers who want to do it next year."
Castle said when he first learned about the tour, he wanted to complete the ride in memory of a fellow trooper, Brian Linn of Elkins, who died early on in Castle's career. Linn, he noted, died while responding to a call - his car crashed on the way there.
Now, with the recent deaths of two more state troopers - Cpl. Marshall Bailey, 42, and Trooper Eric Workman, 26 - Castle has been thinking of them, too. Bailey and Workman died after a man they pulled over for reckless driving shot them both.
Castle estimated the trip from Boston to New York is about 260 miles. On Monday night, he and 199 other cyclists - all officers - had stopped on Long Island for the night.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Castle was attending English class at then-West Liberty State College when he learned of the attacks. At first, he said, people believed the plane that went down in Somerset, Pa., actually had struck Pittsburgh. That led students to think that all major cities in the United States were under attack, he said.
"I remember being angry, sad and shocked," he said. "I knew everything would change."
Castle said he also knew the attacks would create a new generation of people wanting to join law enforcement, fire departments and the military. After working some other jobs, Castle, still feeling the need to serve, became a trooper in 2005.
"The only good part of it - if anything good came out of it - was that it definitely made the country stronger. We're willing to defend anything - our businesses, our property - and we have more pride," Castle said.
Seeing the number of people who wanted to help at ground zero had an impact on Castle, too.
"Everybody here wanted to go toward that, to do something to help. ... We know there's inherent danger with this job, but we're all drawn to this," Castle said.
He noted he anticipates the visit to ground zero and the memorial that is there now to be "very emotional."
"I've been told you feel a presence there, that you feel hope and sadness," he said.
Castle is a 2000 graduate of Wheeling Central Catholic High School. He also is a West Liberty graduate.