WASHINGTON, DC—According to White House sources, President Bush is bracing for intensified criticism following Monday's report that the body of Tyler Sheehan, son of outspoken anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, was recovered from the receding floodwaters in New Orleans.
Although the White House has not released a statement, a firestorm of controversy is expected to follow the death of the dynamic, well-liked young man, who was working on a levee-upkeep crew while completing the EMT-certification training he needed to become a firefighter.
"Tyler was the very picture of an American hero," said Jorge Guiterrez, an Ochsner Hospital orderly present when Sheehan evacuated dozens of patients from its intensive-care unit. "He pulled off-the-clock double shifts moving guys in wheelchairs, guys without arms, guys on dialysis—you name it, he got them on a bus to Baton Rouge."
Before Sheehan moved to New Orleans, he was a struggling coho-salmon fisherman in Oregon's Klamath Basin. However, when the Bush Administration relaxed federal protection of the endangered fish, Sheehan's catch became contaminated with mercury. He gave up fishing and moved to Oakland, CA, where he opened a free clinic, which lost its federal funding in 2002 for giving out oral contraceptives to poor women.
A recent transplant to Louisiana, Sheehan reportedly went above and beyond the call of duty to aid imperiled New Orleans residents, dispensing bottled water and first aid to dazed hurricane survivors between shifts at the breached Canal Street levee.
Sheehan was last seen Sept. 4, hours after he and his levee crew sustained injuries while attempting to shore up storm-weakened levee pilings. According to sources, contaminated water laced with slicks of petroleum from a recently deregulated, poorly fortified refinery ignited, causing third-degree burns among the workers. Survivors recall seeing Tyler, badly injured and without the life jacket and medical kit denied him by recent budget cuts, digging survivors out of the wreckage.
"I don't know how we would have gotten out of there without Tyler," said Dom Ghivarello, Sheehan's crew chief. "Once we got clear of the break, we had no way of getting to high ground without our utility truck, which was requisitioned by the Defense Department last month for use in Iraq. But Tyler threw me his truck keys and went back to help others. That's the last I saw of him."
Sheehan moved to New Orleans in 2004 to take a year off from the University of California at Berkeley, where administrators had temporarily suspended the stem-cell research program in which he was enrolled in hopes of helping to combat his younger sister Ruth's spinal meningitis. Friends report that his public spirit continued in the Big Easy, as he delivered meals to elderly New Orleans residents affected by recent Medicare cuts, and doggedly petitioned the Justice Department for the release of his life partner, Amin Sagheer, who has been detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay for nearly three years.
"He made service to his fellow citizens his number-one priority," Ghivarello said. "He made that vow back in 1998, when his best friend, a developmentally disabled black juvenile, was put to death in Texas for a crime he didn't commit."
Cindy Sheehan was unavailable for comment, as she was busy trying to contact her lone surviving son Teddy, a meteorologist studying global warming with the International Geophysical Foundation in Antarctica, who is believed to be marooned on a 45-square-mile chunk of the shrinking Ross Ice Shelf that broke off Tuesday morning.