Helping the Pentagon cope

By Scott North

Herald Writer

When an arsonist began setting dozens of fires around Puget Sound nine years ago, Chuck Wright of Mill Creek went into the night to help others who were hurting.

Friday, he is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon, scene of one of last week’s terrorist attacks, as a volunteer member of the American Red Cross national disaster team.

The mission will be familiar for Wright, a 57-year-old retired state Corrections Department supervisor and licensed mental health counselor and family therapist.

On Thursday, Wright was handed a plane ticket and told to head to the nation’s capital. He expects to spend up to three weeks trying to meet the mental health needs of those now wrestling with the carnage left when terrorists crashed a hijacked jetliner into the sprawling Pentagon building, killing 188.

Since the terrorist attacks, people with Wright’s expertise have been working with Pentagon burn victims and relatives of people who died. They also have been trying to assist police, firefighters, military officials and others who are picking through the rubble, searching for evidence and missing people.

The trauma of continually confronting ugly sights, smells and tragedy "is really sinking in big time with these men and women, who have put their mental health on the line for the United States," Wright said.

Wright knows the territory. He served as a member of the Sno-King Arson Response Team, the task force that in February 1993 captured Paul Kenneth Keller, one of the nation’s worst serial arsonists. The arrest capped a grueling investigation that lasted six months and brought task force members to more than 100 burning homes, churches and businesses spread out across four counties. Keller is now serving a virtual life sentence after pleading guilty to setting dozens of fires, including some that resulted in deaths.

Wright was assigned to help the Snohomish County residents deal with their grief. In time, many of the task force members — the firefighters, detectives and federal agents — turned to Wright for help in putting the ugly experience behind them.

Wright has continued to specialize in that work. He is on the team that responds in Snohomish County to what are known as critical incidents, a clinical way to describe the ugliest accidents, crime scenes, suicides and mishaps. He has assisted in debriefing police officers who have watched colleagues die in the line of duty; firefighters who have recovered the charred bodies of burn victims; and paramedics called to suicides involving children.

He also joined Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims, a group that works closely with people whose lives have been marred by violence. Wright is president of the group’s executive board.

The Pentagon "is a major crime scene," he said. "I’m going there as a victim advocate, too."

The Red Cross last week sent Wright to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to talk with people who were stranded after the terrorist attacks temporarily shut down air travel. He counseled flight attendants troubled by returning to the skies, among others.

The people Wright spoke with were fearful and struggling with a grief that has "not only penetrated our basic soul, it has penetrated our hope for America, and our view of America as being a land of safe travel."

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

or send e-mail to

Talk to us

More in Local News

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Craig Hess (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)
Sultan’s new police chief has 22 years in law enforcement

Craig Hess was sworn in Sep. 14. The Long Island-born cop was a first-responder on 9/11. He also served as Gold Bar police chief.

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Rival gang members charged with killing Everett boy, 15, at bus stop

The two suspects are accused of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Witnesses contradict gunman’s account of killing Monroe prison officer

Dylan Picard, 22, was driving on South Machias Road when Dan Spaeth approached his car to slow it down to avoid hitting a deer.

Most Read