StoryCorps: In The Long Shadow Of A Hijacking, The Children Seek A New Peace Years ago, Angelia Sheer's mentally ill father hijacked a plane, killing everyone aboard — including Andy Downs' father. But out of the tragedy, they've forged a bond of their own.
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In The Long Shadow Of A Hijacking, The Children Seek A New Peace

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In The Long Shadow Of A Hijacking, The Children Seek A New Peace

In The Long Shadow Of A Hijacking, The Children Seek A New Peace

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's time for StoryCorps, as it is every Friday morning. Today, we have a conversation about a hostage situation from decades ago. In 1971, George Giffe, a man suffering from mental illness, hijacked a charter plane at gunpoint. He said he had a bomb. When the plane landed to refuel in Jacksonville, Fla., the FBI intervened, and Giffe killed his hostages, including the pilot. The pilot was the father of Andy Downs, who spoke at StoryCorps. He spoke with Angelia Sheer, the daughter of the hijacker who killed his father.

ANDY DOWNS: When they landed, they sat there for a few minutes. Over the radio came, this is the FBI.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the FBI speaking.

A. DOWNS: There'll be no fuel. Your only choice is to deplane.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There will be no fuel. I repeat, there will be no fuel.

A. DOWNS: My father said, you're endangering lives by doing this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRENT DOWNS: You're endangering lives by doing this.

A. DOWNS: Please get the fuel out here. And then the FBI made the decision to start shooting at the aircraft, to try to shoot out the engines and the tires. The hijacker freaked out and killed everybody on board, including himself. I was 18 months old. And my mother told me that dad had gone to fly for God. So whenever I saw an airplane fly over, I remember pointing up, saying, there goes daddy. I remember that very vividly.

ANGELIA SHEER: When this went down, I was 13. I was in junior high. And my father, he was very delusional. People were afraid of him. And they should have been afraid of him. One time, a salesman came to the door. I remember back then, you know...

A. DOWNS: Oh, yeah.

SHEER: Vacuum salesman would come. And he actually grabbed him by the throat and threw him out of the house.

A. DOWNS: It took a long time for me to really understand this was a mentally ill man and, you know, in his mind, was forced to do what he did.

SHEER: You have more heart for my father than I do.

A. DOWNS: What were you thinking when I first contacted you?

SHEER: In a lot of ways, I had a lot of guilt because my bloodline destroyed your father. And when I was 20 years old, I actually sought out a trauma therapist. And I told him, I said, if you think I should be sterilized, I will go tomorrow 'cause I will not pass this madness down to one other single person. And just meeting you, it helped my heart and soul understand that there was still love and compassion in the world, even when there's so much darkness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Angelia Sheer and Andy Downs at StoryCorps in Nashville. This incident involving their fathers helped to shape the way that law enforcement handles hijackings today. The interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. And you can hear more on the podcast on iTunes and at npr.org.

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