WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Oct. 26, 2020 — Below is a memory shared by alumnus John “Louie” Kuntupis ‘87, formerly of Weirton, W.Va. and now residing in Ohio. A police officer in Columbus, Louie is a member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). He usually attends homecoming but since it was cancelled this fall due to COVID-19, he shares this observation in hopes that it might be meaningful to all alumni and campus.
“On the anniversary of the passing of an FBI agent, members of the FBI’s JTTF like myself, receive an unclassified email reminder of the life and sacrifice agents make in the line of duty. Below is one of these emails that I received on Oct. 8, 2020, just about the time of our Homecoming weekend that never was. I found it especially meaningful because it tells of the heroism of my friend and alumnus Rex Stockham ‘84, who is memorialized on the FBI Wall of Honor.
On September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 was commandeered by terrorists while on its way from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California. Passengers attempted to retake the plane during the flight, and it crashed in an abandoned strip mine near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The impact crater contained aviation fuel and smoldering debris that burned for several days after the crash.
Supervisory Special Agent Rex A. Stockham deployed to the Shanksville crash site via helicopter that afternoon. FBI Evidence Response Team (ERT) members initially used heavy machinery to remove debris and contaminated soil from the crater before manually sifting through debris to recover evidence. The next day, FBI safety officers provided respirators and other equipment required when working around excavation machinery. SSA Stockham left the crash site on September 12.
In 2015, SSA Stockham was diagnosed with cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, he succumbed to the disease on October 8, 2016. Extensive research by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health established sufficient evidence that SSA Stockham’s exposure to the air in and around the Pennsylvania crash site after the 9/11 attack either precipitated or accelerated the development of his cancer.
SSA Stockham was born in 1962 in Long Beach, Ca. He graduated from West Liberty State College in 1984, and earned a master’s degree from George Washington University. He joined the FBI as a mail clerk in the Laboratory Division and was promoted to physical science technician. In 1988, he became a special agent, reporting to the Houston Division. After being promoted to SSA, he returned to the Lab Division as a hazardous device examiner. An expert K-9 handler, he also worked with the Human Scent Evidence and the Victim Recovery Teams.
I pledged Rex’s fraternity in 1982, my freshman year at WLU. Years after graduation, I talked Rex into attending homecoming and he had a great time and planned to bring his spouse the following year. Unfortunately, Rex was diagnosed with cancer and spent the next year fighting cancer, sadly succumbing and leaving behind a wife and five children.
Looking back at photos from past WLU homecomings I really appreciate those who were part of my WLU experience.
Not long after you graduate, the reality of life sets in and it seems that every year someone passes — teacher, friend, fraternity brother or the guy who lived on your dorm floor. For me, the way of their passing is not nearly as important as the way they lived, the people they touched, the impact they had on humanity, great or small.
WLU taught that. In the classroom and on the campus. Some lessons were learned from instructors, some lessons were learned from peers. For me, the WLU experience reinforced my upbringing and is summed up in the quote “What man is a man, who doesn’t make the world a better place?” (2005 “Kingdom of Heaven” film.)
My hope is that WLU will continue to produce alumni who believe that to serve humanity is the greatest calling.” — Louie Kuntupis
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above information is not a product or endorsement from the FBI.