“In esclusiva Atlasorbis Mr. Grasso First Deputy Police Commissioner NYPD, racconta la sua esperienza personale dall’8 settembre al giorno che ha cambiato la storia per sempre”!
MY 9 -11 EXPERIENCE
By George A. Grasso
Judge, New York City Criminal Courts
Saturday was Family Day for the DCLM chain of command at Fort Totten. Warm, lots of sunshine. About 60 people, including Regina’s parents, Anne and the two boys, and Rabbi Kass, attended the event.
It was a very warm day both in weather and Spirit. There were lots of little kids, which helped provide a special feeling to the day. Food (hotdogs, hamburgers, Sausage, and salads) was plentiful. Cold drinks went fast, but TARU had a soda machine, which came in handy.
A major highlight of the day was a boat ride out past the Throgs Neck Bridge. Regina’s dad and I checked out the sights, including the old gun batteries designed to protect New York harbor from invading enemy navies. We weren’t sure if they were put up during the Revolutionary or Civil War. When we got back to shore, Deputy Inspector Pat Conry and Detective John Totaro (JT) helped me gather the group. I said a few words to all about how pleased I was that they were all able to make it with their families, because these types of days present opportunities to bring our police family together with our blood families and bond as one. I told them how important I thought: our choice to become members of the Police Department was, not only to provide for our families but to make our city a better place for them as well. Rabbi Kass spoke to the group, and also maintained this theme, pointing out how my love for my own family enabled me to-extend that feeling to those of us who work together as well.
During his visit to Sicily, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (second from l.) is surrounded by NYPD Liaison Mitchell Weiss (l. to r.), Italian Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso, New York Criminal Court Justice George Grasso, NYPD Deputy Chief Louis Croce Jr. and Palermo Regional President Giovanni Avanti. Photo courtesy Peter Vallone Jr.
I introduced Jack Fried, an 85-year-old retired Army Veteran (World War II) and the resident historian at Fort Totten. Jack took us on an invigorating walking tour of the Fort, showing us a variety of interesting sites, including a house that was filmed as “Tara” in one of the first films created as part of the “Gone With the Wind”: production. He was a real New York style “character” who did not hesitate to berate members of the group he did not think were Paying him sufficient attention. At one point, he cut into a mal@ and a female, who were chatting while he was pointing something out, by stating, “if you two could stop making love for a moment Maybe I could continue…” Well, those two just happened to be my wife, Regina and my trusted Assistant Commissioner, Rob Messner. To the howls of the group, the red-faced Messner “thanked” Jack for destroying his career, and I told Regina I would “deal” with her later.
We continued on to the most interesting part of the tour – the gun batteries. To get there, we had to hike through a “secret” tunnel and scale a rather steep hill, and there, built into a cliff, were one and one half of what was supposed to be four columns of batteries designed to protect New York harbor from_an invasion by the Confederate fleet during the Civil War. Jack explained that the project stopped at one and one half because during the war (1862), they became outmoded by the development of metal plated battleships (Monitor and Merrimack). My father-in-law and I were fascinated by this discussion, and we thoroughly enjoyed our inside out view of the batteries that we spied a couple of hours earlier from the perspective of a Harbor launch. Jack took us to a modest museum of war memorabilia he Maintained that included helmets, uniforms and guns from all the 20° century wars, and a 19″ century one as well (Spanish American), It was~an interesting and unique climax to a wonderful, family oriented day. As we were walking back from the Museum to where the families were gathered, I kept thinking about the gun batteries, and tried to connect back to a time when an actual attack on New York was a real possibility that our military had to defend against. It seemed so remote on that warm, comfortable day and it was very hard to do.
Police Commissioner Kerik invited Regina and I to his 46th birthday party at a newly renovated hotel in Manhattan. Many of my colleagues from the Police Department executive staff were there with their spouses, including Joe and Barbara Dunne, Bill and Diane Allee, Garry and Gina McCarthy, Maureen Casey, John Picciano and Tom Antenan. Also in attendance were Mayor Giuliani, Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, Bill Fraser (Corrections Commissioner), Dennis Walcott and Many others. The food was gourmet and Sumptuous, and the drinks included champagne and specially made cocktails. The atmosphere of the evening was upbeat and relaxed. Everyone seemed at ease knowing we were imminently approaching the end of the administration (the primary election for Mayor was coming up on Tuesday), and was out to have a few laughs and a good time. The Mayor brought his girlfriend, Judith Nathan, and even he appeared to be in unusually good humor and relaxed. He was very gracious, and posed for pictures with a number of people.
During the evening, Regina and I had a conversation with Commissioner Kerik, and he told us about a recent trip he made to Israel. He met with a number of officials on various security issues, and described how he heard bombs going off while he was dining in local restaurants and pizza parlors. He was somewhat incredulous as he recounted those experiences to us, and that evening, those experiences seemed Particularly far removed from our reality in the city of New York.
I woke up about 7:00 a.m. with a very busy day planned. The first thing I had to do was vote in the Democratic Primary with Regina. We needed to go early because I intended to go to Washington D.C. later in the day, hook up wth Daf Connolly, and meet Larry Thompson, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, to see if we could iron out certain issues pertaining to the upcoming WTO (World Trade Organization) conference scheduled for September 29° and September 30° in Washington.
The specific issue of concern was the desire of Federal Government to utilize approximately 1000 New York City Police Officers to help provide security. The problem was the government officials involved were not being specific with respect to liability and injury protection for our cops. Dan and I resisted committing the city until those issues were adequately addressed, leading to a Phone call from President Bush to Mayor Giuliani, requesting the matter be resolved in a way that would permit us to send our cops, while indicating that the Department of Justice would work with us with respect to our concerns. My plan for Tuesday was to vote, go to One Police Plaza (1PP), brief the Police Commissioner on our planned meeting in DiGwz work to resolve some issues with the First Deputy Commissioner regarding our DWI policies, and then catch a train or plane to D.C.
By about 7:40 a.m., Regina and I were walking over to our polling place at M.S. 67. As we approached the front door an individual (who turned out to be one of the candidates for City Council) bolted out of his car, ran over to us, and tried to thrust a couple of pamphlets into our hands. I thought he might be vidlating our electioneering laws, so I refused to accept his pamphlet and told him to move back and obey the law. To my annoyance, Regina accepted the pamphlet from him, and this led to a small argument, with Regina accusing me of being “rude and abrupt” (how shocking). Despite this, we managed to get our votes in for Mayor and a variety of other candidates. i dropped Regina off at home, and proceeded on My way to 1PP. She was on her way to work at the hospital, and we parted slightly annoyed at each other.
While on my way in, just as I was approaching the Midtown Tunnel, I got a call on my car phone from JT. He told me that Detective Donna Zulch of the First Deputy Commissioner’s (First Dep) office needed to talk to me, and put me through. She said Commissioner Dunne needed to talk to me, and I told her not to put me through to him because I was just going through the tunnel and I did not want to get cut off when we started talking, so I would call back once I got into Manhattan. After I got through the tunnel I called back, and asked her to try and get him. She started laughing and said he was going into the tunnel now, so we should wait until he got through and then we could try again. I was in the process of telling her I would give it about five minutes and call back, when she suddenly shouted “did you just hear that explosion at the World Trade Center (WTC)”, and that she thought a plane might have hit it. She said she had to go, and hung up the phone.
By the time the conversation ended, I was just hitting the FDR Drive at 34™ Street, so I started accelerating to 1PP. I noticed that the time was 8:48, so I turned the radio to News 88 AM (traffic and weather on the 8’s) thinking that the traffic helicopter might have the best information. I heard traffic reporter Tom Kiminsky report from his helicopter that, in fact, a plane had hit the North Tower and black smoke was pouring out. Just.as I was trying to contemplate this horrible image in my mind, I turned my head, looked up, and saw the most horrific sight I had ever seen in my life.
With a backdrop of a crystal clear beautiful blue sky, I saw the North Tower clear as a bell, standing with a hole so large, gaping and monstrous, it literally defied belief. Out of that hole poured thick, black smoke, being fueled by an orange fire that was clearly visible inside the fatally damaged building. It was as if I was staring at an image transported Straight out of hell on a beautiful Tuesday morning on the FDR Drive. As that thought was racing through my mind, I gunned the department car and proceeded to the parking garage at 1PP. I took the elevator to the 14 floor and walked. through the hall to the First Dep’s office. As I entered the office, I @aw Donna watching a big screen T.V. that stands at the back of the conference room. I walked over to her, and we stood together at the front of the conference room, watching the new coverage of the burning North Tower while we had a brief discussion.
(photo Mr. Mitchell Weiss Chief, Clergy / Community Liaison del New York Police Department)
She had just told me that Commissioner Dunne responded directly to the scene of the disaster (of course), and I was in the process of telling her my plan to go and meet him when, together, we let out a spontaneous “oh my God”as we saw the flash of the second plane crashing into the South Tower. I felt a chill go down my spine, and any doubt as to whether this was an accident disappeared. I knew the city of New York was experiencing a deliberate terrorist attack.
I moved quickly down the hall toward my office. As I entered, I saw Sergeant Marty Gleeson, and told him that the second tower was hit and he should stand by because we were going to the scene together. Then I saw JT, and told him that I was going to drop off my briefcase, and we were heading over there. He told me Regina had just called, so I went into my office, dropped off my briefcase, and called the hospital to talk to her. She was horrified and crying, and wanted to know how I was. I told her I was O.K., but I cut the conversation short (slightly annoyed, which I shouldn’t have been) because I felt an immediate need to get to the scene and be of some assistance to police operations. I bolted out of my office, called for JL, grabbed Marty, and we were on our way. As we walked towards the WTC, I tried to formulate a plan of action in my mind as to:
- What was presently occurring?
- What was going to occur?
- What entities and agencies would be responding?
- How could I best help the police commanders on the scene do ‘their job with minimal outside interference?
As we made our way to the scene, we cut through the Plaza between LPP and the Municipal Building. JT was walking very, very fast, and the air was filling up with the smell of the massive amount of smoke being dispensed from both towers. I asked JT to slow down just a bit as we walked Past City Hall, so I could better process my thoughts on how best to deal with a disaster of such enormous proportions that was unfolding in front of us. When we got to Broadway, we made a left and walked to Vesey Street, where we made a right (at St. Paul’s Chapel). As we walked down Vesey Street, past St. Paul’s, I began to clearly notice a lot of debris on the street that was the personal effects of people who fled in panic after the planes crashed. The item that stood out the most to me were women’s shoes. There were shoes all over the street (especially those of the backless variety), and it was obvious they were there because the people were so scared they ran right out of them in order to get away from the hellish firestorm that was ignited by the crashes.
We made it to the corner of Vesey Street and Church Street, where .the sight of our Chief of Department, Joe Esposito, personally directing traffic (without his hat on) with a very concerned look on his face, struck me.. He was trying to do what he could to Open and maintain a direct route: for emergency vehicles into the disaster site, and I spoke to him briefly about the situation. As I continued moving, I saw our First Dep, Joe Dunne, Standing in the middle of the street (on crutches) with a helmet and a uniform type jacket on, also with an extremely pained look on his face. I stood close enough to him to hear that he was in the process of getting information as to the location of the city’s Command Post. He was being
informed that it was getting set up at 75 Barclay Street, and that the Mayor and the Police Commissioner (PC) were “on the way”.
In a flash, he was also “on the way”; whisked into a green Chrysler minivan he was traveling in because of a recent injury (a torn tendon in his left foot that forced him to wear a cast and use crutches, which he was standing of and moving around with that terrible morning). I decided to go to 75 Barclay Street and hook up with Commissioner Dunne, and find out where he thought I could be the most useful in assisting the police response. JT, Marty, and I walked up Church Street to Barclay Street, where we made a left toward West Street. Lieutenant Theresa Tobin saw us from across the street and asked if we were going to the temporary headquarters. When I said, “yes”, she immediately jumped in front of a marked police vehicle (Postal Police), put out her hand, and yelled “stop for Commissioner Grasso”. This was quite a sight, since Terry (an old friend) is about 5’6”, and was wearing an oversized Emergency Service helmet (I found out several days later that Commissioner Dunne had ordered Terry to put the helmet on, and shortly thereafter, when the South Tower crashed and she was caught by the cloud she was hit on the head with a brick and would have likely died but for that helmet).
In fact, I was slightly annoyed because the building I was going to was only a few blocks away, and I figured I could get there on foot about as fast as by vehicle (with road blocks up and the like) and without the hassle, but after Terry went through all that trouble to accommodate me, I felt I should take the ride, so I jumped in the front seat, and JT and Marty jumped into the back. We drove almost two blocks and had to stop because of a concrete barrier, so _I jumped out of the car and Started moving quickly towards the temporary headquarters when I heard JT yell he couldn’t get out of the car. I turned around (annoyed again) to find out what the problem was, and JT told me that the “child safety” lock was engaged (prisoner security), and I needed to open the door for him and Marty. I opened the back door and they got out, and they informed me that recently, all police vehicles, including the NYPD’s, were engaging the feature to lessen the chance of prisonexs escaping. I commented on how stupid I thought that was as we hightailed it to 75 Barclay Street, and on arriving in front of the building, I saw Commissioner Dunne standing in the street (once again) looking at the burning towers and giving directives. I got his attention and basically “reported for duty”; asking him where he thought I could be most helpful (my thought remained that I. would continue south and render whatever assistance I could to our commanders at the scene).
There was a slight pause, and we both stood next to each other in the middle of West Street (the entrance to the temporary headquarters was actually on the West Street side of 75 Barclay Street), looking at the two burning towers and briefly contemplating, once again, the magnitude of the unprecedented disaster unfolding in front of us. As we stood there, we saw various materials falling from the tops of the towers, almost resembling a “ticker tape” parade. To my horror, it was the bodies of people jumping amidst the twisted wreckage of the towers (at no time did it cross my mind that the towers were on the verge of collapsing). Commissioner Dunne looked at me and said the NYPD Command and Control Center at 1PP (Operations Division – 8 floor) was in operation to oversee disaster response and operations, and he asked me to go back there to help out. He said that he would be there in about an hour, and we would discuss at that time what’ our next steps would be. I turned towards JT and Marty, and we began walking north, back towards 1PP (I was, of course, totally unaware that the less than two minute conversation and the instincts of Joe Dunne could well have saved my life). We made our way to Greenwich Street, where I stopped for a moment to purchase a cup of coffee and a chocolate covered doughnut. The coffee was
extremely hot, and I was having a difficult time holding it in one hand and the doughnut in the other, so I handed the coffee to JT and started to quickly eat the doughnut while we were walking (for some reason, the immense unfolding disaster inspired an urge to get something to eat). At about the same time,,.I overheard a man say he had heard that, “they just crashed into the Pentagon” (I thought, they are really getting hysterical now). I also heard someone else say, “they are going to ruin this country” (I was tempted to tell this person that “they” would never ruin this country, but I kept moving). As we walked, Marty asked me if he could borrow my cell phone to call his wife and tell her that he was O.K. I gave him my phone, finished my doughnut, and retrieved my coffee from JT. As Marty spoke to his wife Lois (who had been with us at our family day on Saturday with their two young children), I overheard him telling her that he was all right, he was with Commissioner Grasso, and everything was going to be 0.K. He ended the call and gave me my phone back, and we continued on our way back to 1PP. Just before we turned-off Greenwich Street, Marty said, “look, Aviation is back up – that means we must have gotten the all clear on the skies”. I looked up over my shoulder and saw Police Department helicopters hovering near the top of the WTC, and it gave me a good feeling.
As I’ made the right turn onto Park Place, I felt it before I heard it – a vibration/rumble that just went right through me, followed by a loud, massive, crashing roar. Marty screamed, “we just got hit again – the bastards just hit us again”. I turned to look down Greenwich Street, and was shoved back by JT (always trying to protect me), but as the roar continued, I made my way to the corner in time to see a thick, massive, expanding cloud of smoke and debris that appeared to be over a thousand feet high, and looked like a combination of nuclear Mushroom cloud and tornado. It rushed into the “canyons” between the skyscrapers and raced towards us at a very high rate of speed, and we ran as fast as we could across Park Place (I tossed the coffee) toward Church Street. I looked over my shoulder as I was running, and saw the massive cloud make the right turn on Park Place, being driven by the canyons and bearing down on us as if it was some horrific monster in our worst nightmare.
I thought, “if the cloud catches us, we’re dead”, as I saw all the police vehicles racing to Church Street and heading north to safety from the “death cloud”. It quickly turned into the ultimate “every man for himself” Situation. Every vehicle racing away I couldn’t catch represented one more life preserver I couldn’t grab onto before I drowned. With that thought fixed in my brain as I made it to Church Street, I saw a Police vehicle. parked on the left side of the street, just getting started and beginning to take off. I summoned all my strength for a burst of hopefully lifesaving speed, sprinted for the vehicle, and caught it! I punched the trunk and screamed as loud as I could for the driver to stop, and she did! 1 yelled for JT and Marty to get in as I jumped in the front seat, and they jumped into the back. As the doors slammed shut, I yelled, “Go!”
Then the cloud caught us. The second it hit, everything went totally black. You could not see your hand directly in front of your face, and it was impossible to drive. I jumped out of the car into a hell of almost indescribable Proportions, totally disoriented, and my instinct was to try and run even though I had no idea where. At the same time, I heard JT yell something that was impossible to discern in the chaos. Somehow, I remembered earlier that I had to open the back door of the car for JT and Marty because of the child safety feature, and as a result of that experience, I had the Presence of mind to’stop and find the back door of the car and open it to let them out (I am now forever grateful to Terry for getting me the ride that I found so annoying earlier in the day!).
Standing in the middle of Church Street, totally disoriented, breathing what felt and tasted like solid mass, unable to see, and pretty much convinced I would not make it out of what seemed like a thousand foot high pool of muck alive, I thought of Regina and the boys. I felt very bad that I would not see them again, and that they would not see me again, and I thought about themsgetting the notification of my demise (it was a very despairing moment of thought). In a millisecond, however, I switched to a feeling of rage, focusing on the thought, “I can’t believe these scumbags got me”, and the rage began to orient me into feeling I needed to find a way to survive, if for no other reason than to be part of the payback.
As despair switched to rage, and rage switched to survival, my first instinct instantly manifested itself into a loud scream – “JOHN! JOHN!!!” (Even in the midst of the horrific, despairing swirl of black muck and unknown destruction, I knew instantly that if I found JT, I would have a shot). I heard “BOSS! BOSS! I can’t see you”. I continued to scream for OT; and he continued to scream for me, and following the sounds of our screams, we locked arms. ~JT had the great sense and presence of mind to pull me to the sidewalk on the east side of Church Street, where there was a small deli (the Downtown Deli) that we entered (this may have well been a lifesaving move in itself, because we later found out someone was killed in the vicinity of Church Street and Park Place, right where we were, by debris swirling in the cloud of mass, dust, and smoke that engulfed us. Terry Tobin was struck in the head by a brick in this general vicinity, and survived because Commissioner Dunne had directed her to put that helmet on).
Upon entering the deli, we were met by a horrified counterman who leaped over the counter as he saw us open the door and emerge from the chaos on Church Street. He tried to run out of the deli, and I screamed “don’t open that fuckin’ door!” He stopped, pulled out some keys, and started to lock the door, and I screamed “don’t lock that fuckin’ door!” Paying the counterman no further mind, I turned to JT and we began to formulate a Survival plan (I wasn’t sure at that point whether we would leave or stay, but I was sure that-I wanted the option). The feeling we both had was similar to the feeling one might get when trapped in a burning building and escaping into a room the fire did not reach yet, but the smoke was seeping in (sadly, probably a similar feeling to the one experienced by thousands of doomed New Yorkers who were trapped on the upper floors of the Twin Towers after the planes hit and the horrific fires, fed by the same jet fuel that blackened the cloud of destruction in lower Manhattan that morning, engulfed them). Fortunately, in our case, we were not “trapped” in the deli, and we were able to discuss options.
We quickly agreed that we did not want to remain in a small deli that was quickly filling up with the black, thickening and sickening mass and smoke, so we formulated an escape plan. Our plan was to exit the deli and proceed north on Church Street, hugging the building line to protect ourselves from falling debris, then make a right and continue to hug the building lines as we moved east toward City Hall Park and Broadway, where we hoped the open space would make for more breathable air and better ability to see. It proved to be a good plan. The City Hall Park area was thick with a white type of muck and smoke (the ambiance of a “nuclear winter”), but at least we could breathe and see, and we quickly made our way back to 1PP from there. “
As horrific, life threatening, and mind humbing everything was, it probably took us less than 30 minutes to get to 1PP from 75 Barclay Street after getting the directive from Commissioner Dunne. Later in the day, I found out that what I thought was a massive third hit by a plane was, in fact, the collapse of the South Tower, which went down at about 10:00 a.m. as a result of the intense heat of the jet fuel generated fire that reached approximately 2,000 degrees and actually melted the steel “skin” supporting Tv Tragically, about one half hour later, the North Tower met the same fate, and also collapsed.
At the time I returned to 1PP, I was one of the first people to emerge from the ee catastrophe and reenter our building. I looked like a ghost from bad horror movie, and my hair, skin and formerly brown suit were white from the obscene muck of the cloud. I was met with horrified looks by a number of uniformed Police Officers, who were almost falling over each other to help me. “Commissioner, can I get you some water. Commissioner, can I get you an elevator. Commissioner, can I…” While their concern and support was reassuring, I found myself in a high state of anxiety. My mind was racing a thousand miles an hour – Was 1PP in for an air attack? Would the building be able to take a hit, or would it blow up like the WTC? If I got on an elevator and went up, was I signing my own death warrant? Was the building susceptible to the thick smoke swirling around outside? How much of that smoke was there, and how much could 1PP take? Where was Joe Dunne? Where was Marty Gleeson? Where was the Mayor, the PC…?
I turned to one of the helpful cops and said, “get me to the 8™ floor”, and I was led to an open elevator (JT was following me, unquestioningly, as usual). A-cop turned the key, and we were on our way up.
I was quiet and intense on the outside, but on the inside, my thoughts were churning. I half expected to feel and absorb a catastrophic explosion Prior to reaching Command and Control, and I looked around inside the elevator for a vibration that would be @ precursor to an explosion. When the elevator doors opened, we were on the gf floor, and I walked quickly and deliberately into the Command Center. The large, horseshoe table was a buzz of activity with numerous uniformed officers conferring and trying to make calls, exchanging paper, and monitoring the large T.V. screens Surrounding the room. Despite the chaos outside and the emerging catastrophe, the thing that stood out in my mind was the almost quiet sense of Purpose and dedication that seemed to permeate the room. :
- scanned the ‘room to sort out the highest-ranking officer, and I spotted our Chief of Personnel, James Lawrence (a tall African American officer with over 30 years on the job and a good variety of experience, as well as a law degree and a cool, calm demeanor). I walked over to Jim, and asked him for an update. He gave me a very concerned look and asked me how I was doing, and what was going on out there. I quietly asked him to accompany me to the “Situation Room (SR)” (a small “board room” in the back of the Command Center, dominated by a long table that is parallel to a row of windows overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. The table has numerous phones on it, and there are several T.V. monitors fastened to the tops of the walls. There is also a large, white board at one end of the table with several black magic markers).
On entering the SR, I told Jim that it was hell out there, and I was not sure who might have survived the massive explosion and everything that followed. I asked him if we had heard from the Mayor? No. The PC? No. The First Dep? No. The Chief of Department? No. I asked him to quietly assign someone to try and establish contact with them, and to immediately advise us if they were successful. He indicated he would do so, and left the room. I was briefly alone in the SR (Command and Control’s Command. and Control), looking directly across the table outside the windows at ° the Manhattan side ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, witnessing a massive number of people evacuating Manhattan on foot. I was greatly concerned we had lost the Mayor, the PC, the First Dep, and the Chief of Department because I left them all behind me at 75 Barclay Street, which in my mind, had likely become engulfed in a mass of destruction, and I continued to maintain a nagging concern that at any minute I would see a large plane coming directly at 1PP. It was probably the eeriest moment of my life.
Fortunately, there was not much time to contemplate – it was time to act. Chief Lawrence was back in the room, having assigned someone the critical task. Entering with him was Joann Jaffe (a two star Chief assigned to the Detective Bureau, who I entered the Police Academy with in 1979), Felix Lam (our Deputy Commissioner of Management and Budget, who was appointed within the past year), and various other Support people. As soon as Felix entered the room, I turned and asked him “will the building be able to keep out that crap out there?” as I pointed outside to an atmosphere that was now full of a white substance of unknown toxicity. He assured me that our vents were turned off, and that the building would not be engulfed by the “stuff” I turned to the Chiefs and inquired about the status of our communications. The information I received was not reassuring. I was told, pretty much, that all communication (other than Police Department radios) south of 14° Street was either down or totally unreliable, and, that basically, all the phones in 1PP were out. Radio communication continued, however, and large numbers of Police Officers from around the city were continuing to respond to a variety of mobilization points. Bridges and tunnels were being closed to everything but emergency traffic, all U.S. airspace was shut down (the first time in history), and the Pentagon was hit (my mind flashed back for a second to my thought about how “hysterical” things were becoming when I overheard the man make the Pentagon comment on Greenwich Street just prior to the fist building collapse).
During -that intense discussion, I made a determined effort to remain calm and not show any temper or emotion in order to set the best type of example as I could to all of those who were looking to me for leadership in the midst of such a previously unthinkable crisis. I must have been quite a Sight, sitting in the middle of the table (looking about 85 years old and covered with white muck), while maintaining as serious a facade as I could, asking questions and giving directions (as I was churning ‘inside with emotions and fears that I never previously experienced). Inside of one hour, I went from being sure that I was dead to thinking that I now had critical responsibility for New York City’s Police response to the most horrific catastrophe in the history of our nation.
All of a sudden, there was some noise outside the SR. As I turned to see what was happening, the door behind me to my right swung open, and standing there on crutches, wearing an NYPD baseball cap and covered head to toe in the same white muck that covered me, was our First Dep, Joe Dunne. I felt an unbelievable surge of energy go through my body. The NYPD’s toughest and most experienced field commander, my boss, and most importantly, my friend, emerged from the deadly mushroom cloud that engulfed lower Manhattan. In a millisecond, he spun around on his crutches, planted his rather imposing frame on the chair next to mine, and immediately barked (to no one in particular) “get me a cigarette” I leaned over and whispered in his ear “Joe, we still don’t know what the fuck we got in our lungs – are you sure you want a cigarette?” He violently swung his arm and repeated loudly “get me a fuckin’ cigarette” I leaned back in my chair and thought to myself with half a laugh, “let him have his fuckin! cigarette” Joe was back, he was pissed off, and we were going to be all right. :
What followed upon his arrival is hard for me to specifically chronicle. He got his Cigarette, and began immediately issuing a variety of directives. What was the status of PD mobilization? Where was Chief Morange (Chief of Patrol – PD Commander at Ground Zero)? What were his needs? How were we filling them? Where was Chief Purtell (SOD Commander – oversees ESU) ? Establish radio contact with him – continue to deploy ESU rescue efforts (which now prominently included finding and accounting for Police and Fire personnel). Military issues – National Guard mobilization, air support, etc. Communications – Verizon representatives and reports on efforts to restore some form of phone line communication (a major Verizon switching station located at Ground Zero became submerged by a water main break, knocking 6%t most phone service to lower Manhattan, and everything was exacerbated by the loss of repeaters and antennas on top of the WTC, making cell phone service sporadic).
In the midst of it all, our Chief of Department, Joe Esposito, entered the room (also covered with muck) and took a seat next to Commissioner Dunne, The three of us _ began discussing the complete evacuation of 1PP, and relocation of Command and Control operations to the Police Academy. It was around 11:30 a.m., and we still did not have reliable information as to whether there were additional commercial jetliners unaccounted for. Chief Esposito mentioned the plane that had just crashed in Pennsylvania (UA 93) as a result of an additional terrorist incident, and the three of us paused from the stream of activity being directed by the SR to discuss what we thought was a real possibility of an air attack on 1PP.
As I looked out the window across the table, I basically started the discussion. I said it was obvious that we were dealing with a well-planned and coordinated attack that as far as we knew, was still ongoing. It was also obvious that New York City was a focal point of the attack, and since we knew the Pentagon had also been hit and there were other planes in the air 10 unaccounted for, 1PP could be in serious peril. On that basis, we considered the prudent thing to do might be to relocate to the Police Academy on 2058 Street, which certainly would not be a target on anyone’s hit list. Commissioner Dunne took a drag on his cigarette and looked around the room, glanced outside, thought for a moment, and said quietly “we are not getting chased out of 1PP – we cannot afford that kind of disruption in Command and Control operations, so we are staying here”. It was obvious his mind was made up and we were staying at 1PP for the long haul, come what may.
Even though I really believed that was a possibility that. a jetliner could soon be joining us in the SR, I was perfectly comfortable with his call, and instinctively glad we were Staying. The next thing Commissioner Dunne did was look around the room and Surveyed the group crammed in assisting the effort, taking note that most of us in the room (including himself) looked like a ragtag army having emerged from the mushroom cloud, and said with his usual subtlety “you people look like shit. We are going to be here for a while – I want you to start taking showers and changing clothes. We will open up the equipment section and provide them”
Having made the decision to Stay in the building for the duration, the “suggestion” seemed to make a lot of sense, so I pulled myself away from the table and went up to my office to take a shower. As I opened the door of the SR (where I was for the past couple of hours), I looked across the Command Center and saw Marty Gleeson standing in the back covered with muck, and he never looked so good! I raced across the room and hugged him, thrilled that he made it back to the building safely, then grabbed JT and told them that the decision was made to stay in the building indefinitely, and that they should come upstairs to my office with me so we could take showers, clean ‘all the crap off our bodies, and change our clothes.
Arriving upstairs to an evacuated 14% floor of 1PP was very strange (all non-essential personnel had left hours earlier), as the world changed permanently in those few short hours. Thousands died, the perceived invincibility of my City, my Country, my Department was horribly mocked, hundreds of Police Officers and Firefighters were presumed dead, and I still feared a life ending air attack on 1PP. Yet, I already sensed I was participating in my cities and my department’s finest hours. How strange it all was, and it was barely midday!
I opened the locker in my office bathroom, and pulled out a spare gray suit that I always kept available since an embarrassing pant split many years ago when I worked in the Department Advocate’s office. This incident, of course, was taking the need for a spare suit to another level. I got into the showeng and ence again, experienced the same type of weird anxiety I felt earlier when I entered the confined space of the elevator on the first floor of 1PP after first emerging from the cloud. I looked at the walls of the small shower, and almost expected them to begin vibrating, and wondered what it would feel like to be ina building being consumed by an explosion. With that pleasant thought in mind, I washed the dust from my hair, eyes, and body as fast as I could, got out of the shower, dressed, and was back next to Commissioner Dunne in the SR.
The room was buzzing. Commissioner Dunne was sitting at the head of the table in the small, crowded room. Several televisions were on, but there was a problem with the sound that no one could get a handle on, and no one was paying much “attention to them anyway. LOGISTICS, LOGISTICS, LOGISTICS… Commissioner Dunne was processing massive amounts of information, accepting input from those ‘of us around the table, and making decisions. Major problems involved finding our people (hundreds of Police Officers and Firefighters were missing, including a number of top supervisors and key field commanders like Tom Purtell, the Commanding Officer of the Special Operations Division, which oversees the Emergency Service Unit). It was so ld
bad, our Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Garry McCarthy (who had just arrived from the center of the storm himself), decided to leave the SR, go back to the site of the attack, and personally lead efforts to try and find our key people, including Chief Purtell. Communications were still in tatters, and it seemed that, other than our Police radios and beepers, there was no real reliable means of communication south of 14° Street. Despite these major obstacles, Police resources continued to stream in from the entire City. All uniformed members of the service (UMOS) were activated, and our chain of command (being coordinated out of .the SR) was holding up. Additionally, help was pouring in from the military, National Guard, State Police, Coast Guard, Verizon Communications, and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). OEM had key people in the situation room, including Inspector John Odermatt, to assist in utilizing the slim communication network we had to Maximize the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero, protect other potential targets around New York City, and keep New York City running orderly and reasonably calm. We also established a link with the New York City Command Center being established at the Police Academy, utilizing a combination of Police Department radios and intermittent phone service. Amazingly, while all this was going on, some very creative NYPD and Verizon people managed to rig up a microwave antenna on the roof of 1PP that increased our ability to use cell phones.
As all of this was happening, I noticed someone whisper in Commissioner Dunne’s ear as he was sitting at the head of the table, and a very pained expression came over his face. He got up and headed outside the room, and concerned about what might be happening, I decided to follow him out. What I Saw next was one of the two excruciating examples of human heartbreak and suffering I would see up close that day.
There was a man standing to the left of the situation room in the front of the Command Center. He was in his early 60’s, about 6’ tall, and somewhat Slim. His face was deeply lined, his eyes glistened with tears, and his expression was very, very pained. When Commissioner Dunne stepped out, he went directly over to the man, and they embraced. I positioned myself directly behind Commissioner Dunne, but neither of them noticed me. The conversation was intense and gut wrenching, the man asking, “where are my boys?” Commissioner Dunne was trying to explain to him that what could be done was being done, but that we were still severely handicapped because of the damaged communication networks and the massive wreckage. The man was very respectful, but continued to repeat, “Where are my boys, Joe? I just want my boys back”.
Commissioner Dunne put his arms around the man, embraced him, promised that he woffld do everything he could do, and turned around to go back into the SR. His eyes were red and full of tears as he directed one of his aides to stay with the man and not let him out of his sight (I next saw the man about two months later at a memorial mass for his son, Detective Joe Viggiano, of the Emergency Service Unit. I also found out at the mass that the man had another son, a Firefighter, who also perished on September 11°, The man spoke at the mass with his grandson standing next to him, and still managed to find the strength to thank Commissioner Dunne, his son’s former boss in the 75% Precinct, for all the compassion and support he provided the Viggiano family. The man, John Viggiano Sr., was a retired Firefighter as well.) –
Shortly thereafter, a call came into the SR from Barry Mawn, the Director of the New York Office of the FBI. Barry vacated the NYFBI Headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza earlier in the day (a possible terrorist target), and relocated the FBI Command Post to a nearby building. He told Commissioner Dunne that he was pulling together representatives from a number of key Federal, State, and City agencies, and thought that it would be 12 imperative for the NYPD to send over a high level person who could represent the PC, and maintain direct contact (to the extent possible) with the SRs E caught the gist of the conversation from My vantage point, seated to the right of Commissioner Dunne, and he simply turned to me after he hung up the Phone and said, “That was Mawn. He needs a high level guy over there right away. You’re it. Get right over there and get him whatever he needs from us. Establish a phone line if you can, call me in this room, and give me the number. Keep us in the loop” :
Commissioner Dunne turned away, and immersed himself in other business. Just like that, in the context of about a minute (that’s how decisions were being made in the SR that day), I was thrust into the apex of a Federal investigation into the devastating, domestic sneak attack that eclipsed even Pearl Harbor. I simply said, “yes sir”, got up, and left. It was about 5:00 p.m.
As I exited the SR, I scanned the Command Center for my man, JT. JT and I got into this together, and one way or another, we were going to get out of it together. He was standing toward the back of the room, maintaining eye contact with the door of the SR, waiting for that moment when the door might open and I would need him. Our eyes met, and we both walked to the right rear door leading to the hallway. I told him that we were just assigned to the FBI, that they relocated from 26 Federal Plaza to another location, and that we had to get there quick and establish communication with the SR.
JT asked if I wanted to drive or walk. I told him I wanted to get the car because I thought we might need it as the night wore on, so we grabbed an elevator, and went down to the basement. As we made our way around to ‘the ramp, bang! We were stuck in a line of department vehicles trying to get out of the garage, and to my amazement, the large steel gate at street level was down! I called one of the workers who was standing by the gate, and asked him, “What the hell is going on?” He explained to me (in a rather exasperated manner) that earlier in the day, they got word to shut it to protect the building, and then (for reasons they were still trying to figure out) they could not get it back up. I was somewhat incredulous when I found out this had been going on for at least an hour, and all of our vehicles were essentially trapped in the basement. I had several of the mechanics Supervisors come over to explain options to me, and one said, “well, of course, if you really want it open, we could bring a welder over and have it cut open” I said, “do it. There’s no way, under these circumstances, that all of the vehicles in 1PP are going to remain trapped in this building”
As they went to get the welder, I told JT to park the car, and that we would walk” the several blocks to the FBI Command Post because I felt a tremendous urge to get there and I did not want to wait for the welder to do his job. We could come back for the car later.
JT and I walked quickly to the Command Post. Upon arriving, we were met by several uniformed security guards, showed our ID’s, and were directed ‘to a large, open room with numerous long, marrow tables laid out and cluttered with phones, legal pads, and desk top computers. The room was known in FBI parlance as “The Classroom” At the head of the room was a cove type area cornered off by one of the long, narrow tables, and to the right of the table was an American flag and a podium, and all around the room were metal folding chairs. As I entered the room, I mentioned to one of the PD people I recognized that I was looking for Barry Mawn. He was pointed out to me, standing in the cove area, pretty much in between the table facing the room and the podium. He. was a white haired man in his mid-50’s, about 6’ tall, 200 lbs. with wire rim glasses, in shirt sleeves and a tie, with a folder in his hand and, apparently, in intense conversation with another agent. 13.
I began to make my way over to him to introduce myself, when I noticed the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Mary Jo White, seated to my right. Our eyes met, and she stood up and we embraced. In my job in the PD over the last several years, I found myself at odds with her office on a number of significant issues affecting the Department, but I always maintained a professional respect for her. All past issues between the NYPD and the SDNY were laid aside, and it was absolutely clear we were on the same side, fighting a common enemy that was trying to destroy a city we both loved. x
I continued over to Barry Mawn, and introduced myself. He stopped what he was doing, shook my hand, and asked how “Joe Dunne” was doing over at 1PP. I told him Commissioner Dunne was holding up fine, but it was still a very rough situation. Our communications weren’t nearly up to speed yet, we still had well over 100 members of the service unaccounted for, and the Fire Department “missings” were absolutely staggering. He shook his head and told me that he was glad to see me, and that the FBI would work with us in any way possible. He also told me that in the course of this assignment, I would be privy to much information, and that trust would be placed in me to keep the NYPD properly informed. I promised not to violate that trust, and told him that Commissioner Dunne asked me to try and set up “landline” communication “ASAP” upon my arrival. He laughed and said “good luck”, but very courteously set me up at a spot near him at one of the front tables, and designated one of the phones for my use. I thanked him, and made the point that if the FBI needed anything at all from the NYPD, he should come to me and that I would find a way to get it done. I sat at my spot, and tried to make a “landline” connection to the ‘SR. What would normally have been a “groundball” type of assignment was quickly proving to be impossible. Even though I was getting a dial tone, the calls were not going through to any of the numbers at 1PP, and all I kept getting were rings, busy signals, or static. After about an hour of frustration, I decided I should walk back to 1PP, find Commissioner Dunne, and advise him that I had hooked up with Barry, but that’ I was not having any luck connecting by either telephone or cell phone. Also, I figured that with a little luck, maybe the welders had cut the garage door gate open, and I could put my car into action. I told Barry what I was going to do, and he agreed it was a good idea. He also mentioned that he would like me to speak to the Mayor and/or the PC if possible, because he had not spoken to them since much earlier in the day in the vicinity of Ground Zero.
JT and I were off, and managed to make it back to 1PP on foot in about five mes I. went to the Command Center and found Commissioner Dunne, once again; in the SR. We discussed the failure to establish phone communication and the fact that Barry had not spoken with the Mayor or the PC for many hours. Commissioner Dunne mentioned that the PC was supposed to be at the Police Academy at about 7:00 p-m., and I mentioned that if I rushed back, I could put Barry in my car and bring him to the Police Academy for a meeting. Commissioner Dunne agreed and thought it was a good idea, and I was off again. Fortunately, the welders did their work and the garage was open again, so we drove back to the Command Post. I found Barry in “The Classroom” in conversation with Mary Jo, and told them that if we left right away for the Police Academy, we could probably catch the Mayor and the PC together for a briefing. They both thought it would be a great opportunity to compare notes with the Mayor and the PC, so we were off to the Police Academy. JT made it there just inside of 7:00 p.-m., and we went up to the 7° floor, where the Mayor had taken over the Director’s office.
It was quite a scene at the Police Academy. The building was a buzz of activity, as it was in the process of becoming the center of City and State government. The Mayor was getting ready for a major press conference on the 14 day’s unfolding events, and crammed into the office he was now using were Governor Pataki, Commissioner Kerik, Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen, Corporation._Counsel Mike Hess, Ron Daniels (special assistant to the Governor), Steve Fischner (NYC Criminal Justice Coordinator), Dr. Cohen (NYC Health Commissioner), Ed Kurianski (NYC DOI Commissioner), and several other officials.
The Mayor was sitting behind a simple, standard NYPD issue steel desk at the head of the room when we arrived. I spoke to one of his bodyguards to gain entrance to the room, so he was expecting us when the door-opened. As we entered, I was behind Barry and Mary Jo, and the Mayor turned and looked over his shoulder and nodded a greeting to us. A hush literally fell over the room, and it was an amazing sight. Due to the total lack of reliable telephone service since the collapse of the WTC, pretty much the entire day passed without the Governor and the Mayor getting a briefing from the FBI on the status of the investigation and the crucial issues pertaining to the possibility of secondary attacks. New York City’s bridges, tunnels, and airports were all closed, and everything south of 14° Street in Manhattan was shut down. The Governor and the Mayor were about to hold a press conference to tell the world about these extraordinary circumstances, and until I put Barry Mawn and Mary Jo White in my car and drove them to the Police Academy, there had not been an FBI briefing (outside of a brief street encounter shortly after the buildings collapsed) of the Governor, the Mayor, or the PC.
The briefing began with the Mayor asking Barry to tell him what he could about what was happening. Surprisingly, Barry did not have a lot. to add to the sum of information that was already out there. He spoke in general terms about the FBI’s logistical issues, the numerous leads being followed, and the commitment of Washington to do what needed to be done to Protect New York, but did not offer a lot at the time in way of specifics. At one point, the Governor stretched out one of his long legs, placed it on top of the desk the Mayor was sitting at, leaned over towards Barry and looking at him intently, asked, “what else can you tell me that can help me decide what to do about opening our bridges and tunnels, or for that matter, keeping them closed?” Barry was very uncomfortable with the Governor’s line of questioning, and was not able to give any concrete guidance for the decisions the Governor had to make. I did not envy the position the Governor was in.
Mayor Giuliani was Particularly concerned with how much of Manhattan should remain closed to everything but pedestrian and emergency vehicular traffic. He was wavering between everything south of 14™ Street (as was the case at thg time). or reducing the closure to everything south of Canal Street and was looking for some specifics from Barry that might impact that decision, but he did not get much in the way of specifics, either. In the end, absent specific threat information, the Mayor decided to reduce the Manhattan closure area to everything south of Canal Street.
I also happened to witness an interesting dynamic played out between the Mayor and -Commissioner Von Essen. I knew First Deputy Commissioner Feehan, Chief of Department Ganci, and hundreds of other members of the FDNY were lost, and as I looked toward Commissioner Von Essen, he had the look of a man who’s guts had been ripped out, but was yet, somehow, still managing to stand. The Mayor, on the other hand, was as intense and focused as I had ever seen him. “He was firing off questions, and making decisions as if he was some kind of human Gatling gun. At one point, he became focused on body removal, and asked Commissioner Von Essen what the FD’s plans were to deal with the issue. Commissioner Von Essen tried to answer, but it was obvious, in the overwrought emotional state he was obviously in, that he was in no position to formulate plans to deal with a complex, unprecedented problem.
This did not deter the Mayor, however, and he continued to fire away with variations of the same question, finally (and mercifully) ending with a Statement like, “this is a major issue, and we will have to come up with a plan to deal with it immediately” Shortly thereafter, we all went down to the 2° floor auditorium for the press conference, which was led by the Governor, the Mayor, and Barry, who presented the press with the same basic lack of specific information he gave to the Governor and the Mayor, but was saved by the press’ focus on what the Mayor had to say.
After the press conference, we drove Barry and Mary Jo back to the FBI Command Post, and I had my strongest feeling of accomplishment of the day. Although Barry did not have much in the way of specifics to provide, even that told the Governor and the Mayor something, and since I personally linked up the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Governor, the Mayor, and the PC for the first real Fed/Local briefing of September a”, I felt I accomplished something significant in the mission Commissioner Dunne sent me on a few hours earlier.
When we arrived back at the Command Post, Barry attempted to reach the PC at a phone number Commissioner Kerik Provided him with when we were at the Police Academy, without success. He asked me if I could go back to the Police Academy and find the PC, and provide him with a specific phone number that he hoped would work, so JT and I turned around and went back uptown. At the Police Academy, I got into the elevator, and was joined on my way to the 7″ floor by the Mayor’s personal secretary, Beth Petrone. Beth is a refined, dark haired young woman in her early 30’s, whose desk is directly outside the Mayor’s office in City Hall, and I got to know her over the years as I went to City Hall for meetings with the Mayor. Since he almost always ran late, I would often spend time outside his office waiting, allowing me to develop a friendly, cordial relationship with her. PK
As she entered the elevator, we looked each other in the eyes (as we all do now) and exchanged greetings. I asked her how she was holding up, and she looked at me (with a wounded look I will never forget) and said, “Oh, George, after this, I will never be the same”, to which I responded, “Well Beth, after today, I don’t think any of us will be the same again” She looked Straight forward and said, “George, my husband is a Fireman, and we haven’t heard from him yet today, and he was one of the first responders. Everyone keeps telling me to go home, but I need to keep working and doing what I can to help” The only reply I could muster was something like, “I’m sorry Beth. You’ll be in my prayers” (Tragically, it later turned out that Beth’s husband was killed in the line of duty, and she was also pregnant with their first chil@. ;
When the doors opened on the 7% floor, Beth and I walked out and turned in the same direction, both entering the room the PC was in. She approached him first, and they spoke briefly, then I provided him with Barry’s message. He said, “I know that. Beth just gave me the same message” (Apparently, Barry finally got through on the phone number the PC gave him earlier, and Beth happened to pick up the call. She was enroute to provide the PC with the same message I had for him when we happened to meet in the elevator and she told me her story) Message delivered, JT and I went back to the FBI Command Post where, despite the lack of outside communication, there was still a feverish 3H pace to the activities. I met Inspector Charlie Welles and Deputy Inspector Brian McCarthy, two of the NYPD’s top commanders working with the FBI (Inspector Welles as the Commanding Officer of the Special Investigations Division, and Deputy Inspector McCarthy as the Commanding Officer of the Joint Terrorist Task Force – JTTF). They were doing everything they could to develop a semblance of an organized system to methodically follow up on the hundreds of 16 leads pouring in with respect to both attacks and additional threats to New York. I spent. some additional time talking to Barry, and he told me that the garage/FBI auto repair shop in a warehouse off the West Side Highway (12° Avenue). The primary reason for the relocation was communications, since it was imperative to have some type of semi-reliable telephone service to move forward with the investigation, and ultimately protect the city by following up on the numerous leads and threats streaming in. Due to the massive hits inflicted on the communication networks based in and around the area of Ground Zero, no telephone or cellular service of any reliability would be available south of Canal Street for a long time, so the move was essential and the FBI was already putting the logistics in place to make it happen. I told Barry that I would report to the “Garage Operation” early the next morning, and that I would remain with the FBI Command Post as the PC’s representative for as long as I was needed to do the job. He thanked me and we shook hands, and since it was about 10:00 p.m., I told him that I thought I should go back to 1PP to see what was going on there, and that I would come back and inform him if there was anything he needed to know. He agreed, and I left with JT and headed back to 1PP.
When we returned to 1PP, I headed straight for the SR, and it was still buzzing with the same level of activity as when I left earlier (maybe even more so). Commissioner Dunne was still sitting at the head of the table, clearly in charge and Managing the frenzy of activity. Assisting hin, among others, was Deputy Commissioner Maureen Casey, who was taking notes and recording the various instructions Commissioner Dunne was giving out, and the Chief of the Internal Affairs Bureau, Charlie Campisi, who was Managing the various telephone calls coming into the room, making sure the calls that, did not need Commissioner Dunne’s personal attention were properly directed. I found an available chair, pulled it up behind Commissioner Dunne, and positioned myself to help him in any way that I could. At the same time, Chief of Department: Joe Esposito and Chief of Detectives Bill Allee came back from one of their numerous trips to Ground Zero. They were both covered in the fine, white dust that represented the guts of what used to be the WTC. Bill, in particular, was absolutely caked with the stuff, and emanating from them was a sick, sweet, chalky smell that accompanied the destruction, and would linger over the entire downtown area south of Canal Street for the next couple of months. Their report to Commissioner Dunne was not particularly encouraging. The site was one of wreckage almost beyond belief, and there were mountains of debris everywhere. Fortunately, we were locating many of our key people as they reported back to their commands or made radio contact (Chief Purtell was located hours earlier, and was at the site assisting rescue efforts), but any type of a normal, all encompassing methodical search for our missing people would not be possible. We continued to pour in all available Manpower to work within our field chain of command structure, and work the wreckage for any sign of life to the extent possible. It was a dirty, grueling, and impossible job, but it had to be done, and we were doing the best we could. The look on the faces of Joe Esposito and Bill Allee, as they provided their report to Commissioner Dunne, was truly frightening. Their eyes were bloodshot (I later found out, from the compressed gtass in the “air” circulating around Ground Zero), and the expressions on their faces evoked the thought of the look men would have after literally swimming in death. I began to think about the conversation that I had overheard between Commissioner Dunne and Mr. Viggiano earlier in the day, when he pleaded through his tears for Commissioner Dunne to “find his boys”, and having just heard the first hand report from our Chief of Department and Chief of Detectives, the horrible nature of this still 17 unfolding disaster of unprecedented proportion sunk into my gut even further. The NYPD was out in force fighting with everything it had, more heroically and courageously than at any time in its history, and for all that valiant effort our limitations were never as grossly apparent than at that moment. My heart was crying, but I maintained a focused, steady glare as we continued to work. Next to enter the SR was the Chief of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, Allan Hoehl. Chief Hoehl is in his early 60’s, the long-term, almost legendary, commander of Manhattan South (PBMS). Earlier in the day, when the towers were first hit, I originally intended to make my way down to the WTC and hook up with him and assist him in any way I could, and I was only stopped by my brief (maybe life saving) conversation with Commissioner Dunne in front of 75 Barclay Street. Chief Hoehl is a man of imposing stature, about 6’6” tall, 250 lbs., with a bald, bullet type head, and became known throughout the years as “Mr. Manhattan South” (PBMS encompasses everything in Manhattan south of 59° Street). If it was significant and within his command he was there, so I knew without asking, once the towers were hit Chief Hoehl would be there right in front, directing Police operations personally.
I was not wrong in my assumption, and Chief Hoehl was so out in front, there was a rumor earlier in the day that he had been killed (I found out during a conversation with a colleague, Deputy Inspector Tim Pearson, who was also on the scene and Narrowly escaped death when the buildings came down, there was an early rumor that I had been killed, apparently started by people who saw me walking in the direction of the collapse just prior to Commissioner Dunne directing me back to 1PP). Chief Hoehl narrowly escaped death, as he was on the street, practically in front of the South Tower, when it began to fall, and the force of the cloud and the debris contained in it knocked him down. He managed to pull himself through the suffocating black cloud, and make his escape heading north. –
In the SR, at about 11:30 p.m., Chief Hoehl was totally focused on the task at hand. He was concerned Manhattan south of Canal Street (now one large crime scene) would be vulnerable to looting unless we moved fast to implement a plan, and in a moment both he and Commissioner Dunne were standing in front of a map of PBMS, like a couple of generals planning a Strategy to blunt a coming enemy offensive. The focus was on manpower, deployment, and logistics, and how best to get the job done while at the same time, making the maximum manpower available to continue in the absolutely critical search and recovery efforts Commissioner Dunne just discussed minutes earlier with Chief Esposito and Chief Allee.
Commissioner Dunne brought up an offer made to him earlier regarding the National Guard. He was told that whatever our needs, the Guard could come up with the manpower. As usual, Commissioner Dunne was somewhat suspicious of such broad based offers, but he was eager to use the situation as an opportunity to “take them up on it”, and see what, in fact, they could deliver. Apparently, the Guard began staging at the Jacob Javits Center, so Commissioner Dunne said “what about getting about a thousand of them on buses, and have them report to South Street, in front of the New York Post building”. Chief Hoehl, and a proper contingent of NYPD supervisors could meet them there, and direct a deployment that should be able to deal with any potential looting problems before they arose. Chief Hoehl agreed that if the National Guard Could come up with the bodies and transport them, it could work. Commissioner Dunne turned to him and simply said, “Do it Al”. Chief Hoehl left the SR with direction and a plan to protect Manhattan south of Canal Street from looting, and was in room for less than 15 minutes. That’s how Commissioner Dunne was working the room from the moment I saw him arrive back there that morning (at about 11:00 a.m., when he demanded a cigarette), and about 12 hours plus later. 18
Sometime after midnight, someone came into the SR and informed Commissioner Dunne that a number of the families of our missing officers had begun to gatHer in the auditorium. He asked if a place was set up for them, and he was told that there was an area cordoned off, and that they were being provided with coffee and some light food. He was also told that several of our Chaplains had arrived, as well as people from our Employee Relations Unit (one of the primary functions of Employee Relations is to assist families of members of the service killed in the line of duty).
Since the PC was still with the Mayor, Commissioner Duane was the highest-ranking member of the NYPD at 1PP, so it was obvious what he would have to do, and the look on his face showed this would clearly be his hardest task of the day, by far. It would be placed on the shoulders of Commissioner Dunne to go downstairs to the auditorium and try to explain the unexplainable, console the inconsolable, and try to make sense out of the purest act of madness imaginable. As he contemplated what needed to be done, the look on his face changed to one of grim determination, and he simply got up, and indicated that he would be going down to the auditorium. Without saying a word, I got up and followed him to the elevator, and the ride to the first floor was quiet and somewhat chilling as we both knew, but yet didn’t know, what awaited us.
The lights seemed somewhat dim as we exited the elevator and walked across the hallway to the entrance of the auditorium. Walking into that large room, I had a sense of sick irony that a room generally used for the boisterous, happy occasions of large police promotions was now being used as a staging area for a depth of grief so far unknown to the NYPD. I saw three of our Chaplains moving forward quickly to greet us, and to my left, I saw a large, blue room divider in place and I realized that the families were gathering there. We embraced the three Chaplains, Father Romano, Monsignor Cassata, and Rabbi Kass (Being particularly close to Rabbi Kass, who only three days earlier had participated in our DCLM family day, and helped create a feeling of warmth and human kindness that was the polar opposite of the unadulterated evil that we were all now trying to deal with). I do not remember any words spoken as we embraced, but I do remember looking into the eyes of each of these men and feeling a spirituality that transcended religious creed, and it touched me deeply.
The five of us walked over to the blue room divider, and as we got close, we could hear some quiet voices, and smell coffee. The Chaplains entered first followed by Commissioner Dunne. I walked behind him and stood directly outside the doorway sized entrance area, standing sideways almost like a sen%ry, watching what was going on inside the area with one eye, and looking over the auditorium with the other. Inside the divided area, I saw Commissioner Dunne embracing family members one at a time. There was crying, but it was muffled, and I could see that he also appeared to indicate, as he was embracing each of the people, in some unfathomable way, he was absorbing some of their pain. It is hard to put into words exactly what I felt as I was watching, other than to say it appeared his emotion and embrace was permitting people dealing with horrific anxiety and grief to transfer some of it to him. Even the Chaplains appeared to slightly step back as they witnessed this deep exchange of human feeling and emotion.
As this was going on, one of Commissioner Dunne’s aides approached the area with a cell phone in his hand, and a strained look of anxiety on his face. When he tried to enter the divided area, I stepped in front of him and asked him what he was doing. He hurriedly explained to me that the PC was on the phone calling from the Police Academy, and that he needed to speak to Commissioner Dunne right away. I asked him if he told the PC what Commissioner Dunne was doing, and he said that he tried, but he was told to get Commissioner Dunne. I told him to give me the phone because there was no 19
way Commissioner Dunne was going to be disturbed at that moment. I walked away from the room divider and spoke into the Phone, identifying myself, but the PC had given the phone to one of his aides. I explained to the PC’s aide exactly what Commissioner Dunne was doing, and made it clear that it would be impossible to disturb him. I asked the aide to ask the PC if there was something that I could help him with, and after a brief wait, the aide got back on the line and said not to worry about it, and that the PC would reach out again for Commissioner Dunne later, so I gave Commissioner Dunne’s aide the phone back. ; ~
Sometime later, Commissioner Dunne emerged from the family area, and he was red eyed and shaken. We know each other very well and are friends, but I had no idea what to say to him. We got back on the elevator, and went upstairs to the SR, and not a word was spoken. It was around 1:00 a.m., the Command Center activity was still going strong, but at least there appeared to be a slight lull in the SR when we walked in. Commissioner Dunne looked around the room and saw a lot of tired, dirty people, many of whom had faced their own mortality earlier in the day and had been going for close to 20 hours straight without a break. He told a number of us (including me) that it was time to go home and get a few hours of sleep, and emphasized that we were all in for a very long term Proposition and if we started burning ourselves out in the first couple of days, that we would not be helping anybody.
With that, I turned to him and asked again if he needed anything else from me before I left. He shook his head, and very kindly thanked me for all my help during the day (for all the trauma of the day, that made me feel great). I told him that based on my conversation with Barry, I would be’ at the new FBI Command Post by about 7:00 a.m. I would immediately resume my efforts to set up a reliable phone link between the FBI Command Center. and the SR, and assist the FBI operation in any way I could. He said that would be great, and that I should continue to do it until further notice. I turned and left the situation room, found JT in the Command Center, and was in the car and on my way home in a matter of minutes.
For all the havoc and horror we experienced together during the day, JT and I did not say much to each other on the way home. We had both been to the precipice together, and by the grace of God, we survived together, and now we were in the fight of our lives together against an enemy neither of us spent any serious amount of time thinking about prior to the events of this fateful day. Now, because of this enemy, we each knew our lives would never be the same again, and we each knew we may very well have saved each others lives earlier inegthe day as we were consumed by the cloud of death. It was a hell of a lot to grasp, and we were both very tired.
JT pulled up to the house about 2:00 a.m., I turned and looked at him, shook his hand, said “thanks”, and then said “six”. He knew that meant I would want him at the house to pick me up in four hours, at 6:00 a.m. I went to the house, opened the door, and went in as Regina came downstairs crying. I had the brown suit I was wearing that day, along with my shoes, in a bag, and you could smell the death cloud coming out of it. I put the bag down, we hugged, and I looked her in the eyes and said, “it was close, very close, but thank God I made it. A lot of people were not as lucky”. My son George came upstairs (from the basement) with a very concerned look on his face, and I hugged and kissed him, and told him I loved him and I was glad to be home.
The three of us were in the kitchen, and I looked at both of them and told them “I almost died today”, and I explained everything that happened to me during the day, in the most specific detail that I could remember. I did this because I did not think they should be left to wonder what happened, what I did, why I did it, and how much danger I was in. I think that, in Situations like this, anxiety caused by close family members not knowing what 20 happened can be much more harmful than the truth about a situation could ever be. Also, I wanted them to know everything because, even at that moment, I believed that’ I was, collectively, part of the most significant thing that I had ever been involved in as a human being, and that I believed, with every fiber of being, in what I was part of, and come what may, I wanted them to hear that from me, and understand it.
I told George, in the strongest possible terms that I could, while our country was not perfect, and while we made plenty of mistakes along the way, this country was the greatest country on earth, and he needed té understand his father was almost killed by enemies of this country on this day, and if need be, I would lay my life down for this country on another day. That is how strongly I believed in our country and everything it stands for, and I would never, ever expect to hear any stupid things anymore about what our country stands for because our country was now under attack and all of us needed to pull together and do what we could to defend her.
He looked me in the eyes and said he understood, and I believed that he did. I said I needed to go to bed and hopefully get a few hours sleep, and we shut the light and went upstairs. I quietly went into Joseph’s room, and saw him in his bed, sound asleep. As I stood over him and looked at the innocent expression on his face, I experienced a strong feeling of both thankfulness and relief that I made it home that morning both to be with my family, and to have survived to try and do my part to help defend our country, and help Joe and other kids like him have a shot at growing up ina world worth living in.
I leaned over, and gently kissed him on the forehead, then turned around and walked into my room, took my suit off, kissed Regina, and tried to get a little sleep (it wasn’t easy), and after a while, I managed to drift off and then, wham! The alarm rang and I was rolling out of bed, dressed, – and back in the car with JT on our way to the garage that would now serve as’ the FBI’s New York City Command Center to fight the new war that was thrust upon us. JT and I still did not have much to say, but we both shared a feeling of pride and resolve we would be doing our part to help our City and our Country in this war.
(Si ringrazia il dott. Mitchell Weiss NYPD e Nicola Zichella Relazioni Estere Atlasorbis)