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In Hub, news brings revelers to streets

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By Alexander C. Kaufman and Taylor S. Gearhart
Globe Correspondents / May 2, 2011

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As word spread across Boston last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a US military strike, family members of 9/11 victims expressed relief, while hundreds — some said a thousand or more — ebullient college students took to city sidewalks with noisemakers and American flags.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for 10 years,’’ said Dorothy Grodberg, 77, whose 41-year-old daughter Lisa Fenn Gordenstein, a Needham mother of two small children, died in the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “I’m glad they got him. I’m only sorry they didn’t get him alive,’’ she said in a telephone interview from her home in Jamaica Plain.

Added her husband, Robert, 79: “Every human life is important but to have put an end to his ability to encourage terrorism is very, very important.’’

Christie Coombs, 50, of Abington whose husband, Jeff, was also killed on American Airlines Flight 11, also expressed relief, but stressed the loss was still acute.

“Tonight’s news doesn’t change anything for us,’’ she said. “We’re still waking up in the morning without my husband there and my children are still without their father. All the other 9/11 families still have an empty plate at the table,’’ she said.

Despite her initial feeling of relief, Coombs said she anticipates reprisal from bin Laden’s supporters. “When will the retaliation begin by his followers?’’ she said. “He has them, some very powerful ones.’’

Normal Sunday night activities around the city ground to a halt when the news that the terrorist leader was dead began to leak out online and on television newscasts.

As the news broke, hundreds of students converged on Kenmore Square near Boston University, and police blocked car traffic to the area.

“This isn’t a celebration that he’s dead, it’s that we finally we have a victory,’’ said Sarah Close, 19, a freshman at BU from New York, while walking down Commonwealth Avenue through Kenmore Square last night.

Boston College students were seen running up and down campus sidewalks waving American flags, screaming, and blowing vuvuzela horns leftover from the World Cup.

On the seventh floor of an Emerson College dormitory on Boylston Street, students — most of whom were barely into middle school when the United States was attacked in 2001 — gathered around the nearest television.

Morgan St. John, a senior, said she and some of her friends were studying for finals when they found out via Twitter that the president would be addressing the nation. “We turned on the news and suddenly the room was flooded with people.’’

Sophomore Shanae Burch said the feeling in the room was anxious. “I’m really overwhelmed right now. I want to know what this all means,’’ the sophomore said. “I’m excited that this has happened because this is a really big statement.’’

Junior Samantha Russo said she felt similarly conflicted but also afraid. “But it kinda freaks me out. Like who knows what [Osama’s] people are thinking — they’re going to be really mad.’’

On Boylston Street, where cheers of “freedom’’ could be heard from small, scattered groups of revelers, Juan Orozco of Allston, a 33-year-old cook who moved to the United States from Colombia in 2001, said he was afraid that struggles with violent terrorists would not end with bin Laden’s death.

“It’s really, really good to hear that they got the guy,’’ said Orozco. “But at the same time you have to know not to let your guard down because there are people behind him. You have to keep it up.’’

Brandeis junior Hyder Kazmi, who is Muslim, said he was pleased at how Obama handled the announcement, and his urging to Americans to separate bin Laden’s actions from those of peace-loving Muslims.

“I definitely appreciated his sort of shout-out to the Muslim community and the fact that he went out of his way to say that Osama was fighting Muslims and was killing Muslims,’’ he said.

Kazmi said he has been worried about increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric over the past few months. But, the junior said the president’s words quelled some of his fear. “I was proud to be an American and proud to be acknowledged as an American.’’

Globe correspondents Gabe Souza, Vivian Ho and Anum Hussain also contributed to this report.