This Is Mark Bingham

“Mark, this is your mom,” she said in her first message.

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December 24 2001 12:00 AM ET

Says Holm: “Mark was very proud of being a gay man, [but] it wasn’t the first thing he would define himself as.”

But whether Mark intended it to be or not, 2001 was turning out to be a transitional year for him in many ways, including the way in which he integrated his sexual orientation with the rest of his life.

“The two things in his life that he thought would never come together, did,” Mickle says, referring to Mark’s E-mail to the team. “When they fused, it was like a lightbulb going off in his head.”

After his six-year relationship with Holm ended in 1999, Mark was for the first time socializing as a single and openly gay man. And, along with Eberhart and other new friends from the Fog, he liked to mix it up while going out on the town—maybe stopping by a straight club before hitting a gay bar, such as the Lone Star Saloon, which uses the slogan “Bears, Bikers, and Mayhem!”

“If we were going to do some sort of nasty shot in a bar and no one wanted to do it, Mark was always the first one to give it a try,” Eberhart says. “He would be the one to eat the worm.”

Mickle says Mark was not “straight-acting,” as some people have suggested since September 11. “He was just acting like Mark. Sure, your gaydar would hit 0 every time [you saw him], but you would be so wrong.”

Things were changing at work as well. Business was so good when Mark opened his firm that he was basically able to pick and choose what clients he wanted to work with, says Peer-Olaf Richter, an account executive who started working for Mark in January 2001. But by that summer the bottom had fallen out of the technology market, and the Bingham Group’s roster had fallen from six full-time clients to two. That was incredibly hard for Mark.

“I learned very early on that he was really good at making immediate contact, chitchat, and building bridges between people,” Richter says. “Then, when the industry turned sour and it got to be much more about hard facts, I don’t think he really enjoyed the profession. Essentially, everything he had built up in that short amount of time had basically crumbled and fallen to pieces.”

Mark, a man who friends say hated to lose at anything, started to spend less time at his San Francisco office. He also was considering relocating full-time to New York City, where he already was living part-time and had opened a satellite office in the Chelsea apartment he shared with Amanda Mark.

And, Richter says, while he and his colleagues were in the office worrying about the loss of clients and the shrinking budgets, Mark was checking in from Hawaii, Las Vegas, Monaco, or Pamplona, Spain—where he took his now-infamous run with the bulls. “At the time, we were sitting in the office saying to ourselves, ‘What is that man doing?’ ” Richter says.

Hoglan acknowledges that her son was a “wild and unpredictable boss” at times. She also concedes that there were times that as a mother she wanted to urge him to settle down. “He spent a lot of money, goofed off with his friends, worked like a dog, and lived the life that I have always dreamed of,” she says. “And now I’m just really glad that he did.”

Mark spent Monday night, September 10, at Matt Hall’s home in Denville, N.J., where the two men ate ice cream, watched Monday Night Football, and then chatted while Mark trimmed his goatee in front of the bathroom mirror.

The two met on America Online in June, and after several dates they spent a week together in early September at the Southern Decadence festival in New Orleans. A shy guy who says he “never made the first move,” Hall was amazed with the confidence Mark exuded. “He took me by the hand in front of the Phoenix bar and said, ‘Let’s go meet people,’ ” Hall says. “Then he started going up to people and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Mark Bingham from California. This is Matt from New Jersey.’ ”

Their time together had been romantic, but Hall says they had an understanding that they were to be “just friends.” Nevertheless, that Monday night in Denville, Mark turned to Hall and asked, “When do we talk about making this relationship more exclusive?”

“I just looked at him and said, ‘You need to be on this coast full-time,’ ” Hall says, admitting that even though Mark’s question took him by surprise, he was excited about the possibility of a more serious relationship with him.

The tension from Mark’s question hung over the men well into the next morning, and by 7 a.m., when they were racing toward Newark airport, it was heightened by the stressful possibility that Mark was going to miss his flight home to San Francisco. He ended up being the last to board the plane, getting to his seat so late that he had only enough time to make a quick mobile phone call to Hall before turning off “all electronic devices,” as the flight attendants were instructing.

“He called me at 7:49 a.m. and said, ‘Hi, thanks for driving so crazy to get me here. I’ve made the plane, I’m sitting in first class, and I’m drinking a glass of orange juice,’ ” Hall says. “I said, ‘OK, have a good trip. Give me a call when you get there.’ I never told him how much I loved him,” Hall adds. “With Mark, you were always going to see him again. You were always going to talk with him again.”

Nobody knows for sure what Mark did those two hours after he hung up with Matt Hall. One can imagine that he ate a first-class breakfast, rummaged through the newspaper for the latest on the Dolphins, who were scheduled to play the Buffalo Bills that weekend, and reached across the aisle to introduce himself to his fellow passengers.

We do know that at 9:44 a.m. Eastern time, he called his mom. “Hi, Mom, this is Mark Bingham,” he said when she picked up the phone. “I just wanted to say that I love you. I am on a flight from Newark to San Francisco, and there are three guys on board who’ve taken over the plane, and they say they have a bomb.” It’s the minutes after that call to his mother, those between when the hijackers took control of the plane and when it crashed in Pennsylvania, that have everyone really guessing.

Todd Sarner says that one of the most frustrating things he’s experienced since September 11 has been knowing “more than anything I’ve known in my life” that Mark was involved in taking the plane down—but then not knowing how to adequately explain how he knows.

“I keep having this image from watching Mark play rugby a couple of years ago,” he adds. “His team had just kicked the ball, and there were probably 15 people between Mark and the guy who caught it. And I just remember watching Mark do something I’ve seen him do a thousand times—duck down his head and go through the crowd fearlessly, like he wasn’t even there, and then tackle that guy.”

Did Mark Bingham help tackle the terrorists on September 11? Investigators will be combing through the wreckage of Flight 93 and listening to the cockpit voice recorder for months and maybe years to find out. But the people who knew Mark and watched him live his life say they have all the proof they need.

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