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Heartfelt homecoming
London bomb victims brought home via Horne Properties, Inc. jet

It’s been three weeks today since terrorist bombs shook London and touched the world. While most watched the horror of July 7 via television coverage, two local sisters were living through the terror together on a London subway.

Katie Benton, 21, and her sister, Emily, 20, daughters of Dudley and Patty Benton of West Knoxville, were in London enjoying a special vacation. They had been on the train about a minute, Katie said, when the bomb exploded. The girls are thought to have been sitting about 10 feet from the explosion. Fifty-six people, including the four suspected bombers, were killed.

The injured Bentons were flown to Duke University Medical Center July 10 after an multi-national effort to get them, along with their mother, back to the states. The same kind of effort took place when the girls were well enough to make their last trek back home to Knoxville.

Horne Properties, Inc, which is owned by farragutpress owner Doug Horne, donated the Beech Jet 400 jet that transported the girls from Duke to McGhee Tyson Airport Friday, July 22.

Pilots Bill Babis and Joe Powell said they were proud to be able to fly the family home. The flight took about 45 minutes.

“Mr. Horne does more of this than most people know,” Powell said about his employer’s involvement.

The pilots, who said they fly all over the United States on business matters, helped the girls exit the plane upon landing.

Because of her extensive injuries, Emily was lowered into a wheelchair, but Katie, also still recovering, declined assistance.

“She just hopped out,” Powell said. “She didn’t want anyone helping her. That’s a great attitude. … They were both in great spirits. … Just a super nice and close family.”

Danny and Jane Bullington were among the dozens of friends and family who awaited the sisters’ arrival. The Bullingtons first became friends with the Bentons because the sisters were actively involved in 4-H. Danny Bullington, a Knox County 4-H extension agent, worked with the Bentons while they explored their interests in 4-H projects, mainly livestock.

“Their place is like a little Noah’s Ark,” he said about the Bentons’ home.

Katie is an active 4-H teen leader, Danny added, and will enroll in the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine this fall.

The Bullingtons’ children have also grown up with the Bentons’. Jane has become friends with Patty Benton much because of that connection.

“We have kids similar in age so we get together and cry over our kids and laugh over our kids. She’s a good friend,” Jane said.

Jane knew that the girls were traveling in London and said a prayer when she heard about the bombings. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what are the chances?’”

Jane drove Patty to the airport when she left for London to see her daughters.

“They truly are a strong family,” Jane said. “They feel like the whole time that God has been around them.”

The family, she added, are sad rather than angry at the terrorists.

“What a way to win their cause?” Jane said. “To blow themselves up. … As a parent, I really don’t understand it.”

The Benton sisters’ faith has been apparent in the local and national media coverage of their ordeal. When arriving in Knoxville, each thanked their friends from Fellowship Church on Middlebrook Pike in West Knoxville.

Al Meredith is one of the church members who helped get the sisters back home. Initially, Meredith was hoping to borrow a motor home and drive from North Carolina to Knoxville. He was pleasantly surprised when a fellow church member said instead, “How about a jet?”

Meredith also helped secure the van from Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center that took the girls home from the airport.

“We are taking them home as a courtesy,” said Susie Flynt, a counselor at Patricia Neal who also attends Fellowship Church. Flynt and recreation therapist Jennifer Shinlever pushed the girls in wheelchairs from the plane to the airport where more friends and family members greeted them.

“It’s nice to be able to do something for someone,” Shinlever said.

When she saw the “Welcome Home” signs and the group gathered adjacent to the runway, Katie said she thought, “’This is awesome. … Who am I gonna hug first?’”

Emily dubbed the support, “a blessing” and said she was feeling better. “Today was the best day so far,” she said. “It’s remarkable how Katie and I have both gone through this. But I know that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Katie, who was in Kenya prior to traveling in London, plans to catch up with friends and family.

“They’re gonna have to tie me to the bed,” she said.

Despite the horror the Benton sisters have survived, their cuts and bruises and the surgeries both still face, the sisters have a good attitude and are looking toward a bright future.

“They haven’t defeated us,” Emily said.


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