WASHINGTON - As news of the death of Osama bin Laden spread, a crowd grew in front of the White House to celebrate, chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" and waving American flags.
The jubilant crowd began gathering before President Barack Obama addressed the nation at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday. By midnight, the throng had filled a street directly in front of the White House and the celebration was spilling over into Lafayette Park.
The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was killed in an operation by a small team of Americans who took custody of the al-Qaida leader's remains, Obama said.
Marlene English, 42, wore a small American flag in her ponytail and a shirt from a 9/11 memorial run. English said she has baked thousands of cookies to send to friends serving in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years and that she was at the White House because they couldn't be.
"It's not over, but it's one battle that's been won, and it's a big one," said English, who lives in Arlington, Va., and lobbies on defense issues.
Legislative aide Will Ditto, 25, was getting ready to go to bed at his place on Capitol Hill when his mother called him with the news.
"It's huge," he said of the death. "It's a great day to be an American."
Someone held a life-size cardboard cutout of Obama aloft and others climbed trees and light posts to wave flags. Some sang the national anthem.
George Washington University junior Alex Washofsky, 20, joined in despite finals on Monday.
"George Bush said, `Bring him to justice, dead or alive,' and we did it," said Washofsky, who is a member of the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Erin Lee, 30, of Van Nuys, Calif., came with her father, Henry Lee, 59, who was in town to lobby for health-care issues.
She said she believed justice had been done, but was also worried.
"I'm kind of afraid about what's next, though," she said. "Are they going to retaliate against us?"