NEW YORK – Eunice Stone could turn out to be an American hero.
Officials said Friday that the Georgia woman did exactly what the government has asked of all Americans in the name of national security.
It was Stone who called 911 Thursday morning when she overheard a group of men talking and laughing about Sept. 11 and saying, "they think they were sad on 9/11, wait until 9/13," while she and her son were eating breakfast at a Shoney's restaurant.
"It really scared me; I was really scared," Stone told Fox News on Friday. "Why were they sitting there laughing about 9/11?"
Stone said the men were talking about a party they had the previous night, in celebration of Sept. 11. But she really became interested after she heard them say phrases such as, "do you think we have enough to bring it down?"
Although she said she doesn't make it a "habit" to eavesdrop on people, "If you hear something like that, that's going to grab your attention," Stone said.
Stone said at least one of the men was wearing a Muslim skull cap, or kufi, and the other two were clean shaven with short hair. One had a beard that came to the chest, and two of the men were clean-shaven.
All three were in their mid-20s and spoke English. "They were all well groomed," she said.
"I just thought something is not right," she said, so she called the Georgia State Patrol on her cell phone, setting into motion a search that ended early Friday morning, when the three men were detained along Alligator Alley.
Stone was acting in line with what President Bush and other government officials such as Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge have called on all Americans to do: be on alert and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
The government is also attempting to launch Operation TIPS -- the Terrorism Information and Prevention System. It's one of the core elements of President Bush's Citizen Corps Program.
The national system for reporting suspicious and potentially terrorist-related activity is predicated on the assistance of local citizens who would be in positions to witness unusual or suspicious activity in public places. Volunteers will hand tips over to the Justice Department via a toll-free hotline or online.
Previous to Stone's actions, other incidents exemplified citizens taking action when they saw suspicious activity. One example was the case of Richard Reid, the "shoe bomb suspect" who allegedly tried to set his shoe on fire to ignite a bomb on a flight going from Paris to Miami last December. Passengers on that flight saw his behavior and tackled him to the floor, saving lives.
Government officials, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, citizens and other experts praised Stone for her actions.
"It appears that there isn't a terrorist threat as it relates to any kind of detonation devices or anything like that in the car," Bush said. "But in this time of heightened vigilance, I think it is important to show this system works."
Citizens from around the country also called Fox News to air their own views.
"I think it was a perfect example of someone being a diligent American citizen," said one Ohio man. "If they’re [men detained] not guilty, they got nothing to worry about."
Stone's actions even earned the praise on Friday of Hussein Ibish of the Anti Arab Discrimination Committee.
"I'm really pleased she did what she did," Ibish told Fox News. "Anyone who talks about celebrating about 9/11 raises not only hackles but does raise attention -- it's a very strange and scary thing to say."
The phrases that Stone heard "are indeed exactly what you would regard as legitimately suspicious," Ibish said.
"This strikes me as exactly the type of citizen vigilance that should be done."