BUTTE, Mont. - The retired Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden was fondly recalled as a hometown hero Thursday in this historic mining town where old derricks still dot the high-mountain landscape.
Robert O'Neill, 38, told The Washington Post he fired the shots that killed bin Laden, a story he first recounted in February 2013 to Esquire magazine, which identified him only as "the shooter." One current and one former SEAL confirmed to The Associated Press that O'Neill was long known to have fired the fatal shots at the al-Qaida leader.
O'Neill's revelation renewed debate over whether special operators should be recounting their secret missions. That didn't seem to matter to some here.
"It was always sort of known, I think, but quietly and not confirmed because he can't talk about it," said Ray Ueland, the owner of Metals Sports Bar who said he knows the O'Neill family and remembers O'Neill playing high school basketball. "There was this kind of whisper in the air, but he never said that."
Bartender Kella Furrer said she thought the town's reception of O'Neill reportedly being the shooter was divided.
"Some people are obviously freaking out. They can't believe he would admit that," Furrer said. "I see it differently. I think it's kind of cool to give recognition where it's deserved."
City leaders joined in the applause.
"Osama bin Laden had been public enemy No. 1, and Rob isn't the first to dedicate his life and limb to serve our country," Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent told The Standard. "He was doing his job, and Butte people do their jobs well."
Both O'Neill's father, Tom O'Neill, and mother, Diane Johnson, declined to comment Thursday.
The report stirred pride in this blue-collar town that, during the mining boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, was the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle.
"Naturally, it would be a Butte kid," Ueland said. "If something has to be done, call on a Butte guy. That's a Butte attitude. It really is."