James Daniel Debeuneure
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, Md., USA
Occupation: Fifth-grade teacher, Ketcham Elementary School (Washington)
Location: Passenger, American Flight 77, Pentagon
James Daniel Debeuneure, of Upper Marlboro, was 45 when he decided he wanted to teach, so he went back to college, received a master's degree in education and began a second career in the classroom.
Debeuneure was 58 and a fifth-grade teacher at Ketcham Elementary School in Southeast Washington when he died aboard American Airlines Flight 77 to Los Angeles. He was chaperoning a student on a field trip sponsored by National Geographic.
"He really loved teaching," said Ruth Lea, his mother-in-law, of New Carrollton. "He would tell stories about children coming to school hungry or with weapons that he'd take off them. He was more a mentor and a friend to them than a teacher."
Ketcham Principal Romaine Thomas said Debeuneure came to school early and stayed late to sponsor the student safety patrol and worked tirelessly to find new material and fresh approaches for classroom assignments. "He was such a committed and dedicated teacher," Thomas said.
He is survived by two sons, Jacques Debeuneure, 32, and DeForrest Pratt, 37, and a daughter, Jalin, 20.
"What hurts so bad," said Jalin, a junior at Bowie State University, "is that when [R&B singer] Aaliyah got in that plane crash, I was telling my dad and everyone that I was going to live my life differently because you never know when it's going to be your last day.
"He agreed with that. Now, two weeks later, he dies in the same way -- in a plane crash."
-- Avis Thomas Lesterand Debbi Wilgoren
Source: The Washington Post, AP and washingtonpost.com
The profiles in this feature were written in the months following Sept. 11, 2001.
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