World Trade Center Journal
New York City
World Trade Center Terrorist Disaster
Police Chaplain Lew Cox
Ground Zero Assignment, Christmas Week 2001
World Trade Center Terrorist Disaster
Police Chaplain Lew Cox
Ground Zero Assignment, Christmas Week 2001
Lew Cox is the founder and executive director of Violent Crime Victim Services. This organization provides direct services to families and friends of homicide victims in the State of Washington. In addition, Lew is a volunteer Chaplain with the Des Moines Washington Police Department. He is a member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains [ICPC]. He is a Certified Trauma Services Specialist and he is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. CISM is a program designed for public safety personnel who have experienced a traumatic event.
Lew was called on by the International Conference of Police Chaplains to go to the World Trade Center disaster site during the 2001 Christmas week. He would be part of a five-man chaplain team assigned to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. The Port Authority has 1100 officers and the New York Police Department has 44000 police officers. Port Authority Officers have full police powers in two states, New York, and New Jersey. They are responsible for thirteen facilities. This includes three airports, LaGuardia, JFK and Newark, as well as the bridges and tunnels crossing the Hudson River, a subway under the Hudson River, a shipping port, the largest bus terminal in the country and the World Trade Center. They are cross-trained in firefighting, crash rescue, and Emergency Medical Technician procedures. The Port Authority headquarters was located in the World Trade Center. On September 11, the Port Authority suffered a blow that no other department in the history of the United States has had to endure: the loss of 37 officers, a headquarters, and a police station. Among those losses were senior command staff members including the head of the department. The New York Police Department loss 23 officers on September 11.
Despite the massive losses, the Port Authority Police Department continues to function; officers work twelve-hour shifts with one day off. It appears this will continue for some time, but they continue to remain strong. In addition the New York police officers in Manhattan work twelve hours a day six days a week.
Critical Incident Support Teams are assisting both Port Authority and New York City officers. The teams are made up of police officers and police chaplains. Lew’s tour of duty to New York was from December 23 - December 31, 2001. Port Authority requested ICPC send police chaplains to be part of their CISM teams. Port Authority felt it was important to have a spiritual presence on their CISM teams that come from law enforcement.
Critical Incident Stress Management [CISM]. A comprehensive and systematic approach for the reduction and control of harmful aspects of traumatic stress. It is designed to aid first responders and public safety personnel who have encountered a traumatic incident. It is used in crisis intervention and debriefing public safety personnel. The New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Department has set up a CISM command center in Jersey City. The Port Authority has asked for police chaplains and police officers from outside departments to provide CISM services to their officers. The Port Authority has asked the International Conference of Police Chaplains to assign CISM trained chaplain teams to assist. The Port Authorities were well aware that their officers were going to have to deal with this terrifying event and that the CISM approach to a traumatic incident is a proven method. CISM is a proven method that those who talk about a traumatic incident will fare much better as time goes by then those who are not willing to talk about a critical incident they have experienced. The Port Authority asked that the CISM teams do only one on one crisis intervention and no debriefings with their personnel. Debriefings only take place after a critical incident scene has been cleared. The World Trade Center is still a crime scene and until it is cleared, there will not be any debriefing taking place. It has been important to the Port Authority Police Department and the New York Police Department that their officer’s get continuous CISM help until the time comes to do debriefings.
Sunday, December 23, 2001 Departure Day
My airplane departed SeaTac airport on route to New Jersey, Newark Airport at 1:30 PM. The Boeing 737 soon leveled off at 31,000 feet. This was the first time, since I received the call from ICPC (International Conference of Police Chaplains), that I actually had time to think about my assignment to the World Trade Center. The request to join the five-man chaplain team came on December 11, exactly ninety-days from the September 11 terrorist attack. As I watched the clouds pass by at 31,000 feet my thoughts begin to think about New York City. I think about the New York Police Department, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Department, and the New York firefighters who are dedicating their lives to find their fallen comrades who perished in this disaster. I cannot help but think about the emotional toll imposed on them and their families. I think about the great loss the victim’s families are experiencing during this Christmas season. I am also reminded of the families in Washington DC and Pennsylvania who had loved ones die due to the terrorist act. I trust in God that I can help bring some comfort and hope to those who are working at the Trade Center sites during this coming week. I cannot deny that I have some feelings of anticipation much like I had on my first missionary trip to the Philippines in the early eighties. However, I have confidence that God will provide whatever is necessary for not only me, but for my chaplain team members to minister at this calamity. This disaster is one of the most horrific events in the history of mankind. I’m aware that there will be spiritual and emotional challenges. I know that from a spiritual standpoint, that this was an evil act of terrorism targeting innocent people in the Twin Towers. I know that I go on this trip with a thrust of prayers from individuals, from supportive churches, the Des Moines Police Department, and the support of my wife and family. With God’s help, and this endorsement of people, I believe that I’ll be successful in meeting the challenges that stand before me. I think about those challenges; the collapse of the towers, three thousand people dead, 343 firefighters and sixty cops died trying to save lives, the thousands that have not been recovered, and the ninety-four countries that loss people in the Trade Center.
Regardless of all of these challenges, I realize that I go on this trip with understanding and the experience of working with over three hundred families of homicide victims, my experience with the Des Moines, Washington Police Department’s line of duty death of Officer Steve Underwood in March of 2001. And of most importance my own personal experience of my daughter Carmon’s violent murder in 1987. I’m not sure how to measure my personal experiences with the magnitude of the carnage that took place on September 11, but I do not go in ignorance of traumatic grief.
The flight to Newark was scheduled for five hours. After taking some time to think about my appointment for the next week at Ground Hero I directed my attention to the couple seated next to me. My seat was next to the window on the left side of the aircraft. Seated next to me were Gordon and Norlisa. They were from Mountlake Terrace, Washington, and they were traveling to Delaware to visit family for the holidays. Norlisa use to lived and worked in the area New York. This was her first trip back to the area since September 11. They were a delightful couple that had their pet dog in a black carrying case that was tucked under the seat in front of them. As we continued to make small conversation, the subject eventually got around to what we do for a living. I told them that I was an advocate for families of homicide victims and a police chaplain with the Des Moines, Washington Police Department. I told them that I had an assignment with a five-member police chaplain team who would be working with the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department for a week at the World Trade Center.
The flight was uneventful, the typical two movies on a long flight etc. As we started to approach the end of the flight, the captain announced over the PA system that we would begin our descent to the Newark airport in a few minutes. At that time, most conversations started to cease and people began to put things back in their place to prepare for landing. Within a few minutes after the captain made his announcement the big jet’s engines throttled back. As our decent got closer to the ground, I could see the lights of New York’s suburbs. Because this was my first trip to New York City, Norlisa was kind enough to point out to me what we were seeing from the left side of the aircraft. When the aircraft was parallel with the southern tip of Manhattan Island, I could hear Norlisa start to shed tears. As she fought back her tears, she pointed out to me where the Trade Center used to stand. It was dark and it was raining very hard but you could see the bright lights shining out and up from Ground Hero. It was an eerie site and I could feel emotions rise up within me as I choked back my own tears. Norlisa said she was struggling with the reality of those two towers being gone. As the plane continued on its final approach, Norlisa pointed out to me the Statue of Liberty. It was a sobering experience for me to see this moving site of where the World Trade Center once stood and the Statue of Liberty all in the same breath. If it weren’t for Norlisa pointing out those sites to me, I would have missed them.
It was raining very hard when the plane touched down at the Newark Airport. We had to wait in front of our concourse for about fifteen minutes. During this wait I was able to relax and take a few deep breaths before departing the aircraft. I took the time to thanked Gordon and Norlisa for being my seat companions and wished them a Merry Christmas. After departing the airplane, and picking up my luggage, I was met by one of the Port Authority police officers, and then transported to my hotel in Jersey City.
Monday…December 24, 2001…Day One. Christmas Eve Day
On the morning of December 24, I met the CISM team chaplains in the hotel lobby at 9:00 am. The team members were, Chaplain Keith Kirkingburg, Spokane Washington Sheriff’s Department. Chaplain Ken Childress, Dinuba California, Police Department, California, Chaplain Ed Burnard, Oklahoma, and Chaplain Bob Johnson, Staunton Police Department, Virginia. Chaplain Kirkingburg, Burnard and Johnson were returning for their second tour of duty to the World Trade Center. Chaplain Bernard was on assignment at the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Okalahoma tornado. I found out later that Chaplain Childress’s 15 year old son was killed in an automobile accident while returning home from a church meeting. . Childress was on duty the night his son was killed. He was called to the scene of a fatality accident, not knowing, until he arrived, that it was his son who was the victim.
It was a clear cold day with blue skies and the sun shining bright. We were transported to the Port Authority CISM command center in New Jersey Journal Square. At the command center, we were assigned to a team and our shift location. Each chaplain was assigned to a pair of police officers or firefighters for the next two days. I was assigned to just one, Officer Bill Pollock, of the Atlantic City New Jersey, Police Department. He is a seventeen-year veteran with Atlantic City. Our assignment for the day shift was the JFK airport.
We drove out to JFK in Officer Pollock’s Atlantic City unmarked police car. We arrived at the JFK Port Authority Command Center at 10:45 A.M. This command center is located out near the West End of the JFK landing strip. The command center houses the police station and firefighting equipment for the airport. There is another fire station at the east end of the airport. Bill and I checked in with the command center and then went directly to the officers break room to hang out and talk to officers as they passed through. The officers knew that the Port Authority brought us in to talk to them about the Trade Center attack.
One of the officers, Nick, took Bill and me on a ride out to the airplane taxiways in one of their huge fire trucks. He showed us the supersonic jet, Concord, where it was preparing to leave for France the next day. He told us all about his job and what he knew about every type of aircraft at JFK. Taking a tour in a fire truck on the tarmac of JFK airport might seem strange in regards to the CISM program. However, this was just the type of opportunity we were looking for to get officers to talk and open up. After Nick returned us to the station, we stood out in front of his fire truck and talked at length about where he was and what he was doing on the day of the attack. He gave us a detailing description of what he and others were doing on September 11. Nick also pointed out to us the path of the American Airlines jet on route to Santo Domingo that crashed in Queens. We could see clearly across the airstrip and the waterway to Queens, and the spot where the aircraft went down killing everyone on board.
I could tell that it was important for Officer Nick to tell us about his work. It was important to the CISM team to find moments like this to give an officer a chance to talk about September 11 in a way that is not threatening.
The three of us returned to the break room just as lunch was being served. It gave us a chance to talk to others. We had instructions from Chaplain Ed, to look up a particular female officer that had been having a difficult time dealing with September 11. We were able to find her and let her know that Chaplain Ed sends his regards. We talked with her briefly and assured her that her job was important and to keep her spirits up.
Bill and I stayed at JFK and talked to other officers until four o’clock, and then we headed back to the command center in Jersey City for our evening assignment. Bill had been coming to New York every week since the first part of October to giver his time to the CISM team. However, he’d only been to JFK one other time. Therefore, we had some difficulty in the heavy traffic finding our way back to Jersey City. We got sidetracked a few times and had to go through some residential areas to find the right highway. Being distracted gave me the chance to see what some of the New Jersey and New York neighborhoods looked like. A few of the neighborhoods looked like they were right out of “Archie Bunker’s” neighborhood.
We arrived at the command center around 5:30 PM. Hot meals were brought in each day for the CISM teams. We all got some dinner and talked about our day shift activities. After dinner we got our evening assignment. Two teams went out to the airports and the rest of us went to Ground Hero. We all got into Officer Pollock’s cruiser. We had to go through the Holland Tunnel, which goes under the Hudson River, to get to the World Trade Center.
We parked the cruiser off Broadway Street and our first stop for the evening was St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. St. Paul’s is the oldest operational structure in the United States. George Washington attended St. Paul’s Church, and he had his own booth with a swinging door entrance. The church is located directly across the street from the World Trade Center. St. Paul’s Church is constructed out of light red brick. It has a very high narrowing steeple with a plain cross at the top. The church has its own cemetery in the back of the building and a black iron fence around the church grounds. St. Paul’s, unlike all the other structures around the World Trade Center, was not damaged. You know that this was a miracle, when you see the heavy damage of all the buildings around the Trade Center. Out in front of St. Paul’s, running the lengths of the front of the church, is literally thousands of cards, letters, messages on cloth, and flags attached to plywood that has been erected by the church. There are hundreds of people around the clock standing in front of St. Paul’s, reading the messages and putting up more messages. They have set up floodlights in the area so people at any time of the night can read the messages in front of the church. The atmosphere around St. Paul’s is one of respect and reverence.
Inside St. Paul’s there are volunteers who have come from churches across the country to help serve food, and hand out supplies, to those working at the WTC pit. They are supplying toiletries, clothing, and snacks. Also, inside the church working around the clock are, massage therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths offering their services free of charge. Inside the church there are thousands of cards, banners, and messages from people from all over the world pinned to the walls. St. Paul’s is a stately looking church; the podium, where the sermons take place has spiral stairs going up to it. It is a place where police, firefighters, and others working at the site can come and get food, take a nap on one of the many cots that are available, get a massage, pray, or just warm up from the winter weather.
St. Paul’s is an ideal place for the CISM team to strike up a conversation. It’s a place where people are out of the weather. It has a quiet relaxing atmosphere. We wore our department coats with our department patches on the shoulders. New Yorkers were overwhelmed when they discovered that some of the team members came from the West Coast. They would say, “Chaplain, thank you for coming to New York, God bless you”. St. Paul’s was a place where the CISM teams were able to generate a lot of conversations. St. Paul’s was a place where the CISM team could refresh our energy, too. Talking to people in a church is a special setting for me. What better place to converse on what one is feeling and how they have been affected by the terrorist attack, then in God’s house?
Access to St. Paul’s is off limits to the general public. It’s only open to the public safety personnel and others who are working at the Trade Center site. You have to have Port Authority ID to enter the church. Services have been suspended except for special occasions. The church has been turned into a refuge for those working at Ground Hero.
The senior pastor at St. Paul’s welcomed us as we entered the church. He thanked us for coming to New York. We went in just after a special Christmas Eve service had concluded. We got a rare chance to talk to those New Yorkers who came to the service. There was a TV crew in the church, who were filming a documentary on the WTC.
The reporter interviewed us on camera, and asked why we came from so far away, and why we gave up Christmas with our families to be at Ground Zero. We told him that our families thought it was an honor for us to be chosen to work here at such a special time of the year. We all knew that the Christmas week would be an especially difficult time for the families and friends of the victims and those working over the holidays. It would be painful for millions of people who have been directly affected by this unspeakable act of terrorism. Therefore, it wasn’t a difficult decision for our families to send us to New York to volunteer over the holidays.
After we left St. Paul’s we wandered over to the fire station (called Tenhouse). The station is located directly across the street from the Trade Center, near tower one. On the way to Tenhouse we stopped and talked to some of the NYPD officers who were posted at intersections around the Trade Center. We asked them how they and their families were doing during the Christmas season. We wished them a Merry Christmas as we continued toward the fire station. The station was located directly across the street from the World Trade Center. They and the Port Authority firefighters were the first to respond to One World Trade Center.
Tenhouse lost every one of their firefighters when the towers collapsed. At the present time Tenhouse is acting as a supply center for the firefighters who are working at the site. Tenhouse is also being staffed by FDNY (Fire Department New York) spotters. Spotters are firefighters who work in the pit looking for bodies and body parts. They are available to participate in the memorial services when a fallen firefighter is discovered.
Tenhouse sits at the base of a high-rise apartment house. Next to Tenhouse is a deli that was destroyed along with the rest of the small businesses that front the building. Chaplain Kirkingburg was familiar with the area around the Trade Center because this was his second tour of duty to Ground Zero. Tenhouse is your classic old New York fire station. It is long and narrow, is three stories high and the front of it is painted red. When you walk in the front door you are immediately met with several boards with cards, letters, and flags hanging on them. There is a flag made up of palm prints that some children made for the fallen firefighters. The station’s captain welcomed us and invited us into the kitchen to have some coffee and Christmas cookies with his crew. We first had to stop and have our boots washed off of any contamination that we might have picked up from walking around Ground Zero.
We spent some time sitting around the station kitchen eating Christmas cookies and talking to the firefighters. The captain asked us if we would like to go up on the roof to get an overview of Ground Zero. On our way to the roof we passed by the brass pole that the firemen scramble down when they get a call, and then on through their weight room to the roof door.
From the Tenhouse roof I got a panoramic view of where the twin towers once stood and all the damaged buildings circling the Trade Center. The World Trade Center site is now referred to as “The Pit”. All of the debris from the towers that once stood six to seven stories high has been trucked away. They have done a remarkable job, in a short period of time, hauling out all the steel beams and debris from the street level. The steel beams from the buildings have been cut up and sold off to be recycled. Since September 11th, they have been hauling close to one thousand truckloads a day from the disaster site. Dump trucks and end dumps are being used to truck the debris to barges and then transported down the Hudson River to the Staten Island landfill.
From this vantage point, I tried to imagine those two towers erected in this spot. It was an inconceivable view to me, having never seen the towers before. I tried to imagine what the six floors of debris must have looked like. I realize that this team that I’m on will have a different set of challenges then the past CISM teams. The teams that came in the first few weeks had to deal with the challenge of carnage and shock. The last teams coming in have to deal with the challenge of carnage and reality.
The World Trade Center debris that was six stories high has been cleaned up and taken to the landfill. The Trade Center foundation footings are fifty feet wide and they go seven stories down into a sixteen acre concrete bowl. The current course of action, now that the surface debris is gone, is to dig out the pit. There is a good chance that this process could be completed by June of 2002.
From the rooftop of Tenhouse fire station, I thought to myself, okay, let get to work. We returned to the main floor of the station. We thanked the captain for allowing us to spend some time with he and his men. We split up into teams and headed out to do what New York called us to do. My partner, Office Bill Pollock and I headed out in one direction and the other teams headed in another direction around Ground Zero. We walked near a darkened side street where we saw two New York City police officers at an intersection post. I struck up a conversation with one of them. I asked him what has had the most profound effect on him since September 11. He said it was how the event has affected his wife and four-year-old son. The twelve-hour shifts, six and seven days a week with no letup in sight. The mental and physical toll on him and his family because of the terrorist attack has become part of their life. Throughout the week, I heard this same story countless times.
While Bill and I continue to walk around the perimeter of Ground Zero the cold winter night cut to the bone. We came upon a young lady standing alone near the small Salvation Army tent near tower two. She had a cigarette in her hand and she was staring into an area of the pit where machinery was digging. We asked her why she was looking into the pit. She told us that her fiancé was a firefighter and was in one of the towers when they collapsed. She had become a Salvation Army volunteer and she often comes to the pit during her breaks. I gave her a copy of the booklet that I co-authored, “Coping with Traumatic Grief: Homicide”. I saw her a few days later over at the big Salvation Army food tent. She came up and told me that she’s been reading the book and it’s been helpful.
After some time of walking around and talking to people, we head back to St. Paul’s to meet up with the rest of the teams. On the way, we talked with people who were walking along Broadway Street. We took some time to talk to others who were looking at the message board in front of St. Paul’s. The standard question I asked people outside of St. Paul’s was “why are you down here on Christmas Eve?” “We’ve come to pay our respect to those who died and to those who are working to clean up Ground Zero”. Many people said that the World Trade Center has been a part of the city’s personality. They had to come and see for themselves that they are no longer standing. They thanked us for pitching in to help and for coming from so far away. I would be asked, “How are people from the West Coast dealing with the terrorist attack this holiday season?” It was very important to them what people across the country were feeling. I told them, that we didn’t have the same intense level of grief that the New Yorkers were experiencing. However, the rest of the country was also experiencing sadness this Christmas because of September 11.
Outside of St. Paul’s we observed two distinguished looking gentlemen who were asking the police if somehow they could go up to the viewing ramp that was being constructed. We walked over to see if we could help. These two gentlemen were from Australia. Twenty-eight Australians perished in the WTC.
They were sent to New York, as church representatives and state delegation to pray at the Trade Center site. They wanted to get as close as possible to the site to pray. We told the officers that we would escort the gentlemen up to a viewing area so they could pray. We took them up the plywood ramp that was still being constructed. The older of the two took out a Bible and read a couple of passages. Then with tears in his eyes he prayed for families of the Australians victims and for the families of the New York victims. After he prayed we walked the two gentlemen back to the other side of the police barricade. At the barricade there were a young woman and her mother passing out homemade chocolate chip cookies and hot apple cider to the police officer and chaplains. This was the kind of hospitality that we experienced all week.
The teams spent some time talking to police officers and firefighters inside St. Paul’s. At ten o’clock we left St. Paul’s to go back to the hotel.
Tuesday…December 25, 2001
The entire CISM team including Officer Bill Pollock was assigned to Ground Zero for Christmas Day. Chaplain Keith Kirkingburg’s wife, Norma, accompanied us on our Christmas day assignment. Since this was Chaplain Keith’s second tour to Ground Zero, he brought his wife with him so they could do some New York City sightseeing after his tour was over. It was a delight to have her spend the day with us at Ground Zero.
Chaplain Keith, Norma and I walked around some areas of Ground Zero that would be off limits on any other day because of the lack of equipment in operation. The three of us stopped by the Tenhouse fire station to wish the men a Merry Christmas. We were setting down in the kitchen area having coffee and Christmas cookies with the crew when the Assistant Fire Chief of New York City came in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. We went up on the roof to get a view of Ground Zero while there wasn’t any work going on. This was the first time since September 11 that work at Ground Zero had ceased for any length of time. They were given a break so they could spend Christmas Day with their families.
After leaving Tenhouse, we walked over to the edge of the Ground Zero pit. The cold morning’s bright sunshine penetrated the skin of my face. We stood in solemn stillness looking into this pit. For the moment there wasn’t any movement around the pit. Chaplain Keith, his wife Norma, and I were given this special moment in time to conceptualize what had taken place on this spot on September 11. There were few words spoken between us. We looked into a landscape that had entombed three thousand people within seconds. And, we were called here to pledge a week of our lives to uphold a wounded city. We tried to imagine the height of those two towers and how this disaster has changed the course of history.
We turned away from this tomb; we called the pit, and begin to walk towards St. Paul’s Church to join the rest of the team. When we got over by the church I reached for my cell phone to call my wife, Suzanne, and wish her a Merry Christmas, and it was missing. I must have dropped it when I was walking around with Keith and Norma. So I decided to retrace my steps. I told the team that I would catch up with them later over at the Salvation Army tent. Officer Bill Pollock came with me. After retracing all my steps, I was unable to find the phone. Bill and I were standing at the place that I first started out in the morning. I decided to quit looking for the phone and join up with our team. When we turned around to leave, there was a couple standing in front of us. They were very nicely dressed and the lady was holding a bouquet of yellow roses. I was startled to see these people standing in a restrictive area where civilians were not allowed. I asked them who they were and how did they get pass the police. They said, they told the police officers they drove down from Connecticut that morning in hopes of placing flowers near the twin towers, where their forty-two year old daughter had died on September 11. The officers allowed them to come inside the barricades to place the flowers. I asked them if they would like me to pray with them before they placed the flowers. They were pleased to have someone pray at this grief-stricken time. Bill and I accompanied them to the edge of the pit. The heat from the sun had a pleasant feeling and there was an awareness that something special was about to take place.
We walked to the edge of where the World Trade Center once stood, and we went before the Lord in prayer. We committed Jean Marie into the Lord’s hands and gave tribute to her short life. We repeated the “Lord’s Prayer” together. Officer Pollock stood behind us with his head bowed in reverence. Bill was expressing tears of grief as I praying. I could also sense a strong presence of the Spirit of the Lord amidst us. Following prayer, Jean Marie’s parents placed the yellow roses up against a concrete barrier at the edge of where tower two once stood. With tears in our eyes we stepped back in silence for a moment.
Their daughter had an early morning meeting at the Trade Center the morning of September 11. She worked for a company that was located a few blocks from the Center. She was the only employee from her company at the Trade Center that day. She was also, engaged to be married. The wedding was scheduled for March of 2002, and she had already bought her wedding dress. An additional sadness about Jean Marie’s death was that her father, worked as an engineer when the World Trade Center was being constructed.
I told them that I was on common ground with their heartache and grief. I explained to them that I had the experience of having a daughter murdered, too. There was an instant bond between us, because we realized that we were a part of the same group. I told them that it was an honor and a privilege to have been able to pray with them and to pay tribute to their daughter’s life. I told them that the only reason that Bill and I were in this area was because I was looking for my lost cell phone.
We slowly made our way back to where these folks entered the Trade Center site. They said, the prayers and being able to talk about their daughter really helped relieve some of their suffering. They felt that it was going to be a better Christmas Day then they thought it would be. When we got back to where they entered the site, we got the NYPD officer who let them in take a picture of all of us together.
After the picture was taken, Bill and I put our arms around this lovely couple and embraced them. Then, we watched them walk away from the bright sunlight into the shadows of the New York skyline. I thought to myself there goes one of thousands of families who lost loved ones on that tragic day.
Bill and I then turned and headed towards the Salvation Army tent to meet up with our team. On the way we looked at each other, and I said, “This encounter only happened because I lost my cell phone. Cell phones can be replaced; moments like this can never be recaptured. Bill tells me as we were walking, that he’s been volunteering since October for the Port Authority CISM team. This morning’s experience had greater impact on him than any other occurrence relating to the September 11 attack. He said it was the first time that he shed tears. He felt like a thousand pounds was lifted off his shoulders. He said he has a peace within him that he never has had before.
We got in the food line at the Salvation Army tent. We got our food, I placed my plate down on the table; I took my coat off and placed it on the back of my chair. Then I walked over to the cooler to get some milk. As I turned around from the cooler to walk back to the table, much to my surprise, my cell phone was laying on the floor next to my chair. I reached down and picked it up, and I said to Bill, “You are not going to believe this”. When I showed him the phone he said a cold chill went down his spine. He asked me. “How do you think it got there?” I said, “I’m not sure.” Bill thought that an angel must have put it there. It could have been an angel or it could somehow have gotten pushed up under my coat far enough that I couldn’t feel it. Then, when I took off my coat it fell on the floor. Although, when I took off my coat, I neither heard nor saw the phone fall. We’ll never know for sure how it ended up on the floor next to my chair. We know one thing for sure; the Lord had his hands in this event with Jean Marie’s parents. First of all, they should never have gotten in to Ground Zero that was a miracle in itself. And then, Bill and I ending up where this couple did at this precise time, was no coincidence. I believe this was the providence of God.
Mayor Rudy Gulliani came to the Salvation Army tent to help serve food Christmas morning. Then he went down into the Trade Center pit to greet those who were working Christmas Day.
At the Salvation Army tent we met a family that was volunteering as food servers. Their son [Mark] was killed when tower one collapsed. There was the father, mother and two sisters. They had brought a bouquet of roses with them that day. They were hoping to get a chance to go into Ground Zero and throw the flowers into the pit in memory of their son. Of course it would take another miracle to allow another civilian family to enter the Ground Zero. However, at this time of the day the crews had stopped work to go home to be with their families for Christmas. So, it made it possible for us to escort this family out to the area where One World Trade Center once stood.
All five chaplains including Officer Pollock escorted this family out to Ground Zero pit area. We stopped directly across the way from where we prayed with the Connecticut family. We made a circle and we all held hands. I was asked to pray. “I thank you Lord for Mark’s life. He was made in your image and likeness and we commit him into your hands. From dust we are made and dust we shall return.” We all repeated the Lord’s Prayer. Then, Chaplains Johnson escorted one of Mark’s sisters over to the edge of Ground Zero. She tossed the red roses into the pit. With tears in their eyes, the family spent a few moments standing in silence before we returned to the Salvation Army tent.
After we returned to the Salvation Army tent we took the opportunity to talk to other folks. I struck up a conversation with a young lady who was a volunteer food handler. She told me that her girlfriend and co-worker died at the Trade Center. The two of them had a scheduled meeting with a World Trade Center company the morning of September 11. She stopped by her place of employment to pick up something for the meeting. During her stop the first plane hit the Trade Center. Her girlfriend has been confirmed among the dead. We sat for a while and talked. She was having a difficult time struggling with her fate on September 11. There are many stories like this young lady’s. By some probability, there were those who either worked or were scheduled to be in the World Trade Center on September 11. And, for whatever reason they were delayed from being in the towers when the planes hit. These kinds of stories will remain a mystery.
There were many dedicated families and local business people volunteering their Christmas Day to serve food at the Salvation Army tent. Day after day people from all over the country came to volunteer their time to serve through the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization!
At this time, our teams split up to attend to Ground Zero business. As we made our way around we had the opportunity to encourage people and wish them a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah. We were to meet the team at St. Paul’s Church at 4:00 and then leave for the hotel. When we got to St. Paul’s there were hundreds of people standing outside of the church reading the messages and putting new ones up.
After a full day at Ground Zero we left St. Paul’s, and loaded into Bill’s cruiser to return to the hotel. The traffic was bumper to bumper in every direction. So, it took us longer to get to the hotel then it usually did. A few blocks from the hotel I noticed that we were missing Chaplain Ken (California). Given that there were so many of us heaped in the cruiser, we didn’t realize that one of us was missing. After we discovered Ken was missing we contacted him by cell phone. He said he was eating a bowl of soup at St. Paul’s and that he was waiting for us to show up. He misunderstood the time that we were to meet at St. Paul’s. The traffic was too heavy to go back and pick him up. However, he was able to get a ride to the hotel from one of the NYPD officers.
Wednesday…December 26, 20001…Day Three
Our team assignment for the day shift was to the Staten Island Landfill. Officer Pollack, Chaplain Keith, Chaplain Ken, and I set out for the forty-five minute drive to the landfill. The Staten Island landfill is referred to as “Fresh Kills.” It got its name by the American Indians many years ago. At the present time the name seems to be inappropriate considering the human despair that took place on September 11. It’s a name that I never was comfortable saying while I was in New York.
The landfill was shut down in August 2001. The New York Sanitation Department reopened it because it was the only place that was large enough to accommodate the WTC cleanup.
At the entrance to the landfill stands an elderly woman with a sign around her neck. The sign reads, “New York appreciates you. Thank you for helping. God Bless you!”
Upon entering the landfill we show our Port Authority I.D. We then drove part way up the same road that the large dump trucks use to haul the Trade Center debris from the barges.
When we got to the top of the landfill, we could see an overview of this mammoth project. You could see long piles of debris waiting to be picked up and separated by the twenty or more backhoes. The debris will go through five shakers and sifters looking for body parts and effects that might identify victims. There are mobile trailers that are set up as offices for, NYPD, Port Authority Police, FBI, and the New York Sanitation Department. There is an onsite morgue where body parts are examined and then sent to the Bellevue Hospital Morgue for further examination. The Salvation Army has a hut set up to feed the workers. There is also a hut set up for the workers to dress in their environmental clothing. Outside the FBI office lays part of a landing gear and a jet engine from one of the airplanes that hit the Trade Center.
Our assignment at the landfill was to be available for those workers who felt a need to have someone to talk to. It was a very cold day at the landfill. Chaplain Keith and I were able to go to where a group of NYPD detectives were processing destroyed vehicles. One of the detectives described for us how they process and identify vehicles. Some vehicles were destroyed to the point where they weren’t able to identify the make or model. Many vehicles ended up only as a blob of metal because the heat from the jet fuel melted them. After the vehicles are processed, they are taken out to the bone-yard and stacked in a pile.
At lunchtime we headed for the Salvation Army food hut. We got in line right along with everyone else. These food handlers are volunteers who have come from several eastern states. I sensed an obvious dedicated group of people who were willing to give up their vacations and their families to serve those who have the arduous job of working at the landfill.
We got our lunch and we ate with a table of police officers that were working out on the sifters. They told us they were able to identify a woman from her breast implant serial number. A man was identified by his artificial hip’s serial number.
After lunch, Chaplain Ken and I put on environmental clothing and went out and stood by one of the sifters. We observed the workers looking for things to pick off the conveyer belts. We stood there for about forty-five minutes watching for personal property and body parts to come off the end of the conveyer belt. It had a mesmerizing affect as debris was falling off the end of the conveyer belt. These dedicated officers and firefighters stand out there for twelve hours a day looking for belongings that could identify a person. When a body part or something that might be of identification value drops on to the belt they have to quickly to grab it. The emotional affect that this kind of work can have on a person day after day for months can be exhausting. And for that reason, the Port Authority had the CISM teams on hand. Our presence gave those people an opportunity to discuss their concerns if they felt a need to do so.
At sunset we headed back to the Jersey City command center, to take a break, and then to get our night shift assignment.
Our assignment for the evening was to Ground Hero. We started out from St. Paul’s. Chaplain Keith and I partnered together and made rounds to; Teahouse fire station, the police officers at their duty spots, the morgue, people on the street, and the Salvation Army tent.
We later caught up with Chaplain Ken, who had been asked to man the Ground Zero morgue. The Red Cross provides chaplains for the Ground Zero morgue. However, sometimes the Red Cross didn’t have enough chaplains for each shift. If the morgue did not have a chaplain show, then they would ask one of the CISM chaplains to fill in until one arrived.
Chaplain Ken informed us that a firefighter had been discovered near One World Trade Center area. He was waiting for FDNY chief to arrive. Then, they will walk together, down into the pit to begin the memorial for the firefighter. At the same time, about twenty firefighters form two lines going down into the pit. Chaplain Keith and I fell in line with the firefighters behind the ambulance that was waiting at the top of the pit. The Chaplain and the fire chief walked side by side down to where the body had been located. The body was found about three stories down. During this time all work at the site and all machinery came to a stop. This firefighter was found with his whole body intact, with his helmet lying next to him. He was put in a body bag and laid on a stretcher and a United State flag was draped over him. Chaplain Ken said a prayer and six firefighters picked up their fallen comrade to carry him out of the pit. Chaplain Ken lead the way as the firefighter was carried out of the pit. Chaplain Keith and I stood at attention with the other firefighters. The escort stopped halfway up the ramp and set the stretcher on the ground. Chaplain Ken turned and faced the head of the stretcher and said another prayer. After the prayer, they picked up the stretcher and continued the escort to the waiting ambulance.
This was a very moving experience. The silence was respectful and I could see the lines of sadness on the firefighter faces as they stood at attention while their fallen hero passed by them on the flag draped stretcher. The Trade Center workers standing around the pit were bowing their heads in reverence as the body of this firefighter was being escorted out of the pit.
The waiting ambulance transported the body about fifty yards to the onsite morgue. There he was taken inside the morgue to be viewed and checked for identification. After he was viewed he was put back into the ambulance to be transported to the Bellevue Hospital. All the firefighters who lined the path in the pit were also standing outside the morgue waiting for the body to be brought out and put into the ambulance. When the body was carried out of the morgue we stood at attention and saluted as he passed by. There were two NYPD motorcycle officers in their full winter gear waiting in front of the ambulance to escort it to the Bellevue Morgue.
This particular firefighter happened to be the most decorated firefighter in the history of New York City. That day there were five firefighters found at the Trade Center, They were all found intact. There is a memorial only when a public safety person is recovered.
When a body or a body part is found, either at Ground Zero or the landfill, the news echoes throughout these places. The hope is that, when someone is found, there’ll be an identification made.
Thursday…December 27 2001…Day Four
Chaplain Keith Kirkingburg and I were assigned to the Staten Island landfill. We had two new team members and drivers for the day shift. They were the fire chief and his firefighter son from Haddon Heights Fire Department, New Jersey.
It was a cold and windy day on Staten Island. When the winds blow, at the landfill it comes across the Hudson River and hits the bottom of the landfill. The wind becomes extreme as it rolls up and over the top of the landfill. The wind also causes the smell of the garbage dump gases to intensify. Because of the winds we spent most of our assignment in the Salvation Army mess hall talking to people.
We arrived back at the Jersey City command center at 1700 hours. We had some dinner and discussed with the other team members the events of our day. We had two new teams members arrive from the Boston Police Department. They came to replace the Haddon firefighters. They were two motorcycle officers (Danny and Avonda) from an elite Boston motorcycle team trained in riot control. They have a skull and bone cross on the back of their department ball caps indicating that you don’t mess with them. We were assigned together as a team, and frankly, I felt real safe in their company.
Our evening shift assignment was to Ground Zero. The three of us got into their Boston patrol car and drove through the Holland Tunnel and then pass Greenwich Village to get to Ground Zero. We parked near the Salvation Army tent. We made that our first stop after we registered at the Ground Zero security booth. The wind was still blowing the cold air really hard. The temperature was starting to dip into the teens; therefore, it was a delight to step inside the warm Salvation Army tent. While inside the tent, the lady whose fiancée firefighter died in the fall of the towers came up to me. She said she had been reading the copy of my book and that it was helpful.
We left the tent and headed for Tenhouse fire station. On the way we walked by the truck loading area near the north tower area. These large dump trucks are lined up around the clock to receive their load. The loads are hauled six blocks to the barges that are parked on the Hudson River. These drivers are working twelve-hour days. Each load they haul could be a cargo of human remains. We were unable to talk to the truck drivers because of the danger of getting hit by the debris being loaded onto their trucks. Surely, those truck drivers; emotions are being affected as much as anybody else working at Ground Zero. Unfortunately, because they are alone in their rig, they don’t have anyone to talk to them during their shift. The ironworkers and the laborers told us that no one ever comes over to their shed and talks to them. These individual groups perhaps didn’t have any comrades’ die in the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, they have been working there since September 11, cleaning up debris, driving trucks operating heavy equipment, cutting steel, and discovering victim’s bodies and body parts. They have been a forgotten group of people. Sadly, there just weren’t enough chaplains for every category of workforce represented at Ground Zero.
As we walked by the south section of the Ground Zero pit we could see how much had changed from the night before. Every day that I was at Ground Zero, I was amazed at how much excavation took place.
By the time we got to Tenhouse fire station we were ready to warm up again. When we walked into the station we were greeted by two firefighters. One of the men was sitting in a small radio room watching TV; the other man was standing at the radio room doorway. In a rough demanding voice, the guy in the radio room wanted to know what we wanted. They didn’t recognize us as the CISM team. We told them that we were making our nightly rounds at Ground Zero and we’ve stopped by to see how things were going at Tenhouse.
Many of the firefighters at Tenhouse are standing by to be part of the memorial if a comrade is recovered. These men are very protective of this station house. All of Tenhouse firefighters were killed on September 11. One of those firefighters was found with his fire axe lying across his chest. A monument was made inside the station displaying the axe. Someone stole that axe, and for that reason, they are very apprehensive when people they don’t know come into the station. We talked with these men for some time; the one standing by the door had a lot to say about how much the firefighter disliked the New York Fire Commissioner. The other firefighter wasn’t saying much, but I could tell that he was listening to the conversation. Then every once in a while he would speak up and give his opinion on the commissioner. As the conversation was winding down you could sense a more relaxed atmosphere with these men.
When the three of us left Tenhouse, we knew that the mission we were brought in to do just worked really well. Our job was to get people talking about their frustrations, about their jobs, and the disaster. We walked away from Tenhouse with a sense of accomplishment. And for the moment, we were a release valve for two dedicated and concerned firefighters.
We then stopped off at the Ground Zero morgue to see how things were going and to make sure they had a chaplain on duty. From the morgue we worked our way over to St. Paul’s. On the way we stopped to talk to three NYPD officers standing behind street barricades at Broadway and Wall Street. We talked to them for a few minutes and as we were walking away, the female officer that I was talking to, yell to me, “Are you coming back?” I said, “Yes, I’ll be back”.
At St. Paul’s we got some homemade chicken noodle soup to help warm us up. We did what we always did when we were at St. Paul’s; we ate and talked to workers. After some time, I meander over to George Washington’s booth. George Washington attended St. Paul’s Church and he had his own private booth. I opened the door of the booth and sat down for a few minutes. I thought to myself, if George only knew, that one of the most horrifying events in the history of mankind would take place right across the street from St. Paul’s Church.
Sitting in George Washington’s booth was a very philosophical moment for me. I thought about what he must have experienced having to deal with the British in those days and comparing it to the events of September 11th.
That night our shift was supposed to end at 8:00 PM. However, we were still visiting with people as it approached ten o’clock. Before we left Ground Zero for the day, I went back to talk to the female officer that wanted to know if I was coming back her way.
When we arrived the two male officers were standing by the barricades and their female partner was sitting in her patrol car. I walked over to her cruiser and I leaned down to talk to her through the car’s open window. As we talked, I asked her what was troubling her most at this point since September 11. She said she was concerned about her colleagues not dealing with the aftermath of the twin towers collapse. They are having troubles at home with domestic issues, drinking and generally stressed out. They’re working long hours six days a week. They’re away from their families to long and they won’t talk about the Trade Center disaster. I asked her where she was when the attack took place. She related that she was home when the attacks first took place. It was a level (4) code. The code (4) means that twenty thousand officers report to duty without a call up. She arrived at the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed. Prior to the towers collapsing she saw people jumping out of the buildings. Three people came out of one buildings holding hands. She said she could never have imagined that she would ever see so much flesh, body parts, and debris. We had a rather lengthy conversation about her concerns and her experiences that have taken place since September 11. I reached in through the window of her car and touched her shoulder. I told her I would keep her and her department in my prayers.
On our way back to the car we briefly stopped by the Salvation Army tent. Then we headed back to the hotel in hopes of getting a good night's sleep.
Unfortunately, all team members confirmed that they had difficulty in sleeping. I would come back to the hotel after a long day of dealing with many stressful situations. I would climb into bed thinking that I would fall asleep immediately. However, my mine would not shut down. All the gruesome things we saw and talked about that day would race through my mind.
Friday…December 28, 2001
Our team assignment for the day shift was to the Staten Island landfill. We hung out in the Salvation Army tent for most of the day. I also went over to visit the criminal investigation trailer. All recovered I.D’s. and body parts are processed through this division. When a body part is found it is logged in a ledger and a picture of it is taken and put into file. Then it is transported to the Bellevue Morgue. At that point, they had discovered 2780 entries of bones, feet, fingers, and legs. So far on this particular day they hadn’t discovered any body parts. The day before they found eleven body parts. One was a foot and part of a leg. This is considered a large body part. As I mentioned before, when a body or a body part is found, the discovery of it reverberates throughout the landfill and Ground Zero. There are no whole bodies being found at the landfill.
There were seven people killed and five injured today in down town Manhattan. An elderly man driving on 34th Street lost control of his van. He drove over people who were in the crosswalk and on the sidewalk. The officers on the scene said it was the worst accident that New York City ever had. One more, critical incident that New York City didn’t need.
Saturday…December 29, 2001
The Boston officers and I got our assignment from the command center and set out for Ground Zero. It was a very cold and windy morning. We stopped by the onsite morgue to check in to see how things were going. We were told that a woman’s torso was discovered about two floors into the basement of tower one. She had part of an airplane fuselage embedded in her. One World Trade Center was an area that had a strong order of decomposing bodies.
From the morgue we stopped off at Tenhouse fire Station, and then on to St. Paul’s Church. My team members were scheduled to finish up their assignment at noon, so they could start their five-hour trip back to Boston. However before we left Ground Zero we stopped off at the Salvation Army tent to take time to talk to people.
The three of us were a team for two days. We had some meaningful contacts during our assignments. I really appreciated them for taking the CISM assignment with the Boston Police Department. They had come to Ground Zero many times since September 11th. They gave their time to up hold their fellow police officers in a time of great need in New York City.
On their way back to Boston, Danny and Avonda dropped me off at the Bellevue Hospital Morgue for my afternoon assignment. It was always a moving experience when a CISM team departs. You bond quickly as a team then in a couple of days you separate perhaps never to see each other again. There is a sense of disappointment when you depart; however, you cement a rapport that is lifelong. As I watched my Boston partners drive away I did sense that disappointment once more. However, there isn’t much time to dwell on ones disappointments because there’s no slowing of the demands on the CISM teams.
As Danny and Avonda drove away I turned and walked towards the Bellevue Morgue chapel. I was to meet Chaplain Ken Childress at the chapel. Our job at the morgue was to assist each other in the memorial when a police officer or firefighter was brought up from Ground Zero.
The NYPD had established a command center at the Bellevue Hospital Morgue for those who perished in the WTC. Part of the command center was set up on a street that parallels one side of the hospital. They brought in mobile tra