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 incident.
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 1,100 officers and the New York Police Department has 40,000 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 fire fighting, 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 (NYPD) lost 23 officers on September 11. The New York Fire Department (NYFD) lost 333 firefighters and 91 fire trucks were destroyed. The NYFD has over 30,000 firefighters.
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 Authority’s were well aware that their officers were going to have to deal with this horrific event and that the CISM approach to a traumatic incident is a proven method. CISM is a proven method of dealing with traumatic stress. Those who talk about their experience fare much better than those who do not talk about it. The Port Authority asked that the CISM teams do peer support and no debriefings. 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 debriefings 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 Seattle International Airport en route to Newark,New Jersey 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. While I watched the clouds pass by as I looked out the window of the aircraft, I began to direct my thoughts towards New York City. I thought 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 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. I know that I'm going 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 thought about those challenges; the collapse of the towers, three thousand people dead, 333 firefighters and sixty police officers died trying to save lives. The thousands that have not yet 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 an 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 Zero (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 live and work in the New York area. This was her first trip back to the east coast 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.
The flight was uneventful, the typical two movies on a long flight. 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 we were 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 Zero. 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.
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 thank Gordon and Norlisa for being my seat companions and wished them a Merry Christmas. After departing the plane, I picked up my luggage. Then, I was met by one of the Port Authority police officers, and transported to my hotel in Jersey City.
Monday…December 24, 2001…Day One. Christmas Eve
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 Police Department, California, Chaplain Ed Bernard, Oklahoma, and Chaplain Bob Johnson, Staunton Police Department, Virginia. Chaplain Kirkingburg, Bernard and Johnson were returning for their second tour of duty to the World Trade Center. Chaplain Bernard had been on assignment at the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Oklahoma 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 fatal 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 brightly. We were transported to the Port Authority CISM command center in Jersey City Journal Square. At the command center, we were assigned to a team and our shift location for the day. Each chaplain was assigned to a pair of police officers or firefighters for the next two days. I was assigned, however to just one partner, Officer Bill Pollock, of the Atlantic City Police Department, New Jersey. He is a seventeen-year veteran with Atlantic City Police. Our assignment for the day shift was the JFK airport.
We drove out to JFK in Officer Pollock’s police car. JFK Port Authority Command Center is located out near the West End of the airport. The command center houses the police station and fire fighting 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. Our assignment was to hang out and talk to officers as they passed through the break room. These officers knew that the Port Authority brought us in to talk to them about the Trade Center attack.
We met officer Nick. He took Bill and I out to the airplane taxiways in one of the department's 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. Yet, this was just the type of opportunity we were looking for. This gave us an opportunity to get an officer to talk about their WTC experience. 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 detailed description of what he and others were doing on September 11. Nick also pointed out the path of the American Airlines jet en 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 he knew was having a difficult time dealing with the aftermath of 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.
After our day shift was over Bill and I headed back to the command center in Jersey City to get our evening assignment. 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 sidetrack 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. I was taking in all the sites as Bill was trying to navigate his way back to Jersey City.
When we arrived at the command center we got ourselves a hot meal. We took some time to relax and talk to our team members 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 went through the Holland Tunnel, which goes under the Hudson River, to get to the World Trade Center.
Bill parked the cruiser off Broadway. 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 when the U.S. Capital was in New York City. George had his own private booth inside the church. The church is located across the street from the World Trade Center on Broadway street. The church is constructed of 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 with a black iron fence around the grounds.
St. Paul’s, unlike all the other structures around the World Trade Center, was not damaged. This was a miracle, when you see the heavy damage of the other buildings around the Trade Center. In front of St. Paul’s, running the length of the front of the church, is literally thousands of cards, letters, messages and flags. They are 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. They're reading messages and putting up new ones. The area has floodlights so people at any time of the night can read the messages. 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 the WTC workers. The church is supplying toiletries, clothing, and snacks. Inside the church, working around the clock are, massage therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths offering their services at no charge. Inside the church , pinned to the walls, are thousands of cards, banners, and messages sent from people from all over the world. St. Paul’s is a stately looking church; the podium, where the sermons take place, has a spiral stairs going up to the top. 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 to the workers. They can get a massage, pray, or just warm up from the winter weather.
St. Paul’s was an ideal place for the CISM team to strike up conversations. It has a quiet relaxing atmosphere. We wore our department coats, and when the New Yorkers discovered that some of us had come from the West Coast they were overwhelmed. I would hear them say, “Chaplain, thank you for coming to New York, God bless you”. St. Paul’s was a place where we could refresh our energy, too. Having the opportunity to talk to those struggling people in God's house was a special experience for me.
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. Inside the church there was a TV crew 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. So, for us, it wasn't a difficult decision for our families to send us to New York to volunteer over the holidays.
We left St. Paul’s and walked over to (Tenhouse) fire station. It is located right across the street from the WTC. On the way to Tenhouse we stopped and talked to some 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 and we continued toward the fire station.
Tenhouse lost every one of their firefighters when the towers collapsed. At the present time Tenhouse is inactive as a fire station. However, it is being used as a supply center for the firefighters who are working Ground Hero. Tenhouse is also being staffed by FDNY (Fire Department New York) spotters. Spotters are firefighters and NYPD police. They work in the pit looking for bodies and identification . They are also there to participate in the memorial services when a fallen firefighter or cop is discovered.
Tenhouse sits at the base of a high-rise apartment house. Next to the station 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 WTC. Tenhouse is your classic old New York fire station. It is long and narrow, 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. 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 Hero. 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 we 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 seven Trade Center buildings once sat in this pit and the twin towers once stood 105 stories high. They are now pulverized into a sixteen acre area basement that goes seven stories down. All of the building debris 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 have been cut up and sold off to be recycled. Since September 11, they have been hauling close to one thousand truckloads a day of debris from the disaster site. Around the clock, dump trucks are hauling debris to barges that are lined up along the Hudson River. The debris is then transported down the River to the Staten Island landfill.
From the station house roof, 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. My teams is dealing with the challenge of carnage and reality.
The Trade Center foundation footings are fifty feet wide and they go seven stories down into the sixteen acre concrete bowl. The current course of action, now that the surface debris is gone, is to dig out the pit. The clean up job is ahead of schedule and ahead of budget. The job will be accomplished in June of 2002.
From the rooftop of Tenhouse fire station, I thought to myself, okay, lets get to work. We have people to talk to. We returned to the main floor of the station, thanked the captain for allowing us to spend 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 the other 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 affect 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 let up in sight. The mental and physical toll on him and his family because of the terrorist attack has become part of the skin of their life. Throughout the week, I heard this same story countless times.
Bill and I continued to walk around the perimeter of Ground Zero as the cold winter night penetrated our bones. 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 he was in one of the towers when they collapsed. She had become a Salvation Army volunteer. She often comes to watch the workers dig in 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 headed 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. My standard question to them was, “why did you come to Ground Hero on Christmas Eve?” They said, “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 experiencing a 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 be of any assistance. These two gentlemen were from Australia and they told us that twenty-eight Australians perished on September 11.
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. We told the officers that we would escort the gentlemen up to the viewing area so they could pray. We walked them up the plywood ramp that was still being constructed. The older of the two men took out a Bible and read a couple of passages. Then with tears in his eyes he prayed for families of the Australian 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 was 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 the church to report back to the command center before we returned to the hotel.
Tuesday…December 25, 2001 Day Two
The entire CISM team including Officer Bill Pollock were 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 Hero, 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 Hero.
Chaplain Keith, Norma and I were able to walk around areas of Ground Zero that would have been off limits any other day. Little work was going on because the workers were sent home to be with their families for Christmas. 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 Hero while there wasn't any work going on. This was the first time since September 11, that work at Ground Hero had stopped.
After leaving Tenhouse, we walked over to the edge of the Ground Hero 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 quiet 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 minutes. We tried to imagine the height of those two towers and how this disaster has changed the course of history. And that, we were called here to pledge a week of our lives to uphold a wounded city.
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. I thought that this would be a good time to call my wife (Suzanne) and wish her a Merry Christmas. I reached for my cell phone and it was missing. I thought that 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 at the Salvation Army tent. Officer Bill Pollock came with me. After retracing all my steps, I was unable to find the phone. We were standing near the place I first started out in the morning with Keith and Norma. At that time, I decided to quit looking for the phone and join up with the rest of our team. When we turned around to leave, to my amazement, there was an older couple standing about fifty feet in front of us. They were very nicely dressed and the lady was holding a bouquet of yellow roses. I was surprised to see these people standing in a restrictive area for civilians. I asked them who they were and how did they get pass the police. They told us that they were George and Charlotte and they drove down that morning from Connecticut in hopes of placing flowers near the site where their daughter had died on September 11. They said the police officers allowed them to enter Ground Hero to place the flowers.
Their forty-two year old daughter, Jean Marie, was killed when the buildings collapsed. I asked them if they would like me to pray with them before they placed the flowers. They said, yes, so Bill and I accompanied them to the edge of the pit of Ground Hero. The heat from the sun had a pleasant feeling and there was an awareness that something special was about to take place.
We went before the Lord where the World Trade Center buildings once stood. 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. I looked over at him and I saw tears running down his face as we memorialized Jean Marie's life. I could also sense a strong presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. After we prayed, Jean Marie’s parents placed the yellow roses up against a concrete barrier at the edge of the pit of the World Trade Center. With tears in our eyes we stepped back for a moment of silence.
On that dreadful day their daughter had an early morning meeting at the World Trade Center. 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 engaged to be married. The wedding was scheduled for March of 2002, and she had already bought her wedding dress. An added sad note about Jean Marie’s death, her father worked as an engineer on the construction of the World Trade Center project.
I told these folks that I was on common ground with them and their grief. I explained to them that I experienced having a daughter murdered, too. Of course, there was an instant bond between us. We realized that we were a part of the same club. I told them that it was an honor and a privilege to have been able to pray with them and to be able to pay tribute to their daughter’s life. I told them that the only reason that Bill and I were in the area where they were, was because I was looking for my lost cell phone.
We all slowly made our way back to where these folks entered the Trade Center. They said, the memorial prayer, 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 was going to be. When we got back to where they had entered the site, we got the NYPD officer who let them in to take a picture of us. Then, Bill and I paid our respects to this lovely couple by giving them a big hug. Next, 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 whose loved one died on that tragic day.
Then, Bill and I 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 has volunteered several times for the Port Authority CISM teams. This morning’s experience had greater impact on him then 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 and he had a peace about him that he did not have before.
We got in the food line at the Salvation Army tent. After we got our food we found a table to sit down and eat. 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 from the cooler to walk back to my table, to my surprise, my cell phone was laying on the floor next to my chair. I walked over and picked it up, and I told Bill, “You are not going to believe this." When I showed him the phone he said a cold chill went down his back. He asked me how it got there? I said, I don't know. Then he said, it must have been an angel that put it there. I said, it could have been an angel or somehow my phone got 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. However, we do know one thing for sure; the Lord had his hands in this supernatural event with Jean Marie’s parents.
Supernatural event number one, there's no way that George and Charlotte should ever have gotten past the police to get into Ground Zero. Supernatural event number two, how Bill and I ended up being at the same place where George and Charlotte were because I was looking for what I thought was a lost cell phone Were these events just coincidences? I don't think so. I think all of this was divine guidance. I've seen this kind of stuff happen many times in my Christian life. For Bill and I, it will be a story that we will tell over and over for the rest of our lives. How four people, in the course of life, come together by virtue of God's hand, for a moment in time and depart with such a profound experience. This event will be forever etched in my mind, and I believe it was ordained by 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. Mark's father, mother and two sisters had brought a bouquet of roses with them, hoping to get a chance to go into Ground Hero and throw the flowers into the pit in memory of their son. Of course it would take another miracle to allow this civilian family to enter the Grounds of the Trade Center. However, at this time of the day the crews had stopped work to go home to be with their families for Christmas. So,we escorted this family out to the area where One World Trade Center once stood.
All five chaplains including Officer Pollock escorted the family out to the 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 prayed in this fashion. “Lord we thank you for Mark’s life. Lord, 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, Chaplain Johnson escorted one of Mark’s sisters over to the edge of the Ground Zero pit. She tossed the red roses into the pit with tears in her 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 some 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 had stopped by her place of employment to pick up something for the meeting. During her stop the first plane hit tower one. Her girlfriend has been confirmed among the dead. We sat for awhile and talked. She was having a difficult time struggling with her fate on September 11. Her question was, why did she escape death that morning? 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 some reason they were delayed from being in the towers when the planes hit. These kinds of events will remain a mystery, yet, they will trouble the mind .
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 to serve. The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization! May God richly bless that organization.
At this time, our teams split up to attend to Ground Hero 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 scheduled to meet up with the team at St. Paul’s Church at 4:00, and then leave for our 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 longer to get to the hotel then usual. 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. Somehow, 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. He, however, was able to get a ride to the hotel from one of the NYPD officers.
Wednesday…December 26, 2001…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 clean up.
At the entrance to the landfill stands an elderly woman. She stands there every day with a sign around her neck, that reads, “New York appreciates you. Thank you for helping. God Bless you!”
Upon entering the landfill we showed our Port Authority I.D. The drive up the landfill is the same road that the large dump trucks use to haul the Trade Center debris from the barges. From the top of the landfill, we could see an overview of this mammoth project. You 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 set up as offices for, NYPD, Port Authority Police, FBI, and the New York Sanitation Department. New York Sanitation Department has their own police department. There is an on site 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 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 where a group of NYPD detectives were processing destroyed vehicles. One of the detectives described for us how they process and identify the destroyed vehicles. Some vehicles were destroyed to the point where they were not 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 take their vacations and leave their families to serve those who have the arduous job of working at the landfill.
We got our lunch and ate at a table with some police officers that were working out on the sifters. They told us they discovered a women's breast implant on one of the shakers. They were able to identify her by the serial number stamped on the implant. They also were able to identify a man by the serial number from his artificial hip.
After lunch, Chaplain Ken and I put on a set of environmental clothing and went out and stood by one of the sifters. We watched the workers looking for things of interest coming off the conveyer belts. 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 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.
At sunset we headed back to the Jersey City command center, to take a break, and get our night shift assignment.
Our assignment for the evening was to Ground Zero. We started out from St. Paul’s. Chaplain Keith and I partnered together and made rounds to; Tenhouse 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 staff the Ground Zero morgue. The Red Cross provides chaplains for the Ground Zero morgue. Sometimes they are short handed. If the morgue did not have a chaplain, they would ask one of the CISM chaplains to fill in until one arrives. The morgue chaplain is stationed there to be available to assist in the memorial when a firefighter or a cop is discovered at Ground Zero.
Chaplain Ken informed us that a firefighter had been discovered near Two World Trade Center area. He was waiting for the FDNY chief to arrive. When the chief arrives they will walk to where the discovered firefighter had been found. At the same time, about twenty other firefighters form two lines on the ramp going down into the pit. Chaplain Keith and I fell in line with the firefighters. There was an ambulance waiting at the top of the pit to receive the firefighter. At this time all work and all the machinery comes to a stop. This firefighter was found with his whole body intact, with his helmet lying next to him. And, he was discovered about three stories down. He was put in a body bag and laid on a stretcher and an American flag was draped over him. Chaplain Ken said a prayer and six firefighters picked up their fallen comrade and carried him out of the pit. Chaplain Keith and myself stood at attention with the other firefighters. The escorts stopped halfway up the ramp and they set the stretcher on the ground. Chaplain Ken turned and faced the head of the stretcher and said another prayer. Then, 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 firefighters faces as they stood at attention while their fallen hero passed by them. Around the Trade Center, workers were standing with their heads bowed in reverence as the body of this firefighter was being carried out of this abyss.
He was put in the waiting ambulance and then transported about fifty yards to the on site morgue. All of us followed the ambulance to the morgue. There, he was taken inside 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 Morgue. All of us were waiting outside the morgue for this hero to be brought out and put into the ambulance. When he was carried out of the morgue we all stood at attention and saluted him as he passed by. There were two NYPD motorcycle officers in their full winter gear waiting in front of the ambulance to escort him to the Bellevue Morgue.
This particular firefighter that was discovered, 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. Each time this type of discovery is make a memorial takes place.
When a body is discovered at Ground Zero or a body part is found at the landfill, the news echoes all through the Trade Center's locations. The hope is that, when someone is found, there will be an identification made, and a family may get some closure.
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 another cold and windy day on Staten Island. When the winds blow across the Hudson River and hit the bottom of the landfill it becomes extremely 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 wind, 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 the 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). They're with an elite Boston motorcycle team trained in riot control. They have a scull and bone cross on the back of their department ball caps, indicating, that you don’t mess with them. We were assigned 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 and on 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 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 disaster came and spoke 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 of debris. The debris is hauled six blocks down to the barges that are parked on the Hudson River. These drivers are working twelve-hour days. Each load that 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 as their trucks were being loaded. Surely, those truck driver's emotions are being affected as much as anybody else working at Ground Zero. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have anybody to talk to 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 did not have any comrades die in the World Trade Center. Regardless of the fact, they have been confronted, since September 11 with, cleaning up debris, driving trucks, operating heavy equipment, cutting steel, and discovering bodies and body parts. Sadly, this group of people have been a forgotten group of people. Unfortunately, there just were not 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. I was amazed at how much excavation took place each day at Ground Zero.
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 did not recognize us as the CISM team. We told them who we were, and that we were making our nightly rounds at Ground Zero.
Many of the firefighters at Tenhouse are standing by to be part of the memorial if a comrade is recovered. Thy are very protective of this station house because all of Tenhouse firefighters were killed on September 11. One of those firemen was found with his fire axe laying across his chest. A monument was made inside the station displaying the axe. Someone came into their station and stole that axe, and for that reason, they are very apprehensive when people they don’t know come into Tenhouse.
We talked with these firemen for some time; the one standing by the door had a lot to say about how much the firefighters 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 awhile he would speak up and give his opinion on the matter. As the conversation started to slow down you could sense a more relaxed atmosphere with these men We finally said good night to these guys and headed out to make more rounds.
As we walked away from Tenhouse, we knew that our mission couldn't have worked any better then it just did.. Our job was to get people talking about their jobs, their frustrations, 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 affected 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, as the cold wind was rocking us. Then, as we were walking away, the female officer, yelled out 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 we talked to workers. After some time, I meander over to George Washington’s booth. I mentioned before that George Washington attended St. Paul’s Church and that 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 could only have known what was going to take place right out the back steps of this church someday.
Sitting in George Washington’s booth was a very philosophical moment for me. I also thought about what he must have experienced during the days he had to deal with the British and comparing it to the events of September 11, 2001.
On this night, our shift was suppose 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 the 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. She said, they're 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 for too long of a time. 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. To the NYPD, a level (4) code, means that twenty thousand officers report to duty without a call up. She told me, she arrived at the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed. Prior to the towers collapsing she saw people jumping out of the buildings. She saw three people jump out of one building 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 a difficult time falling to sleep. I would come back to the hotel after a long day and climb into bed thinking that I would fall asleep immediately. However, my mind would not shut down. All the gruesome things we saw and experienced throughout the day would race through my mind. But, I get up the next morning and I'm ready to tackle another day's assignments at Ground Zero. Why? Because we all felt that we were making a difference in people's lives.
Friday…December 28, 2001 Day Five.
Our team assignment for the day shift was again to the Staten Island landfill. We hung out in the landfill's 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 is an interesting phenomenon taking place at Ground Zero and Fresh Kills. They have not found a metal filing cabinet, or a computer part, or a telephone. They have not found any furniture parts, or bathroom tile. All of those types of items have been completely pulverized under the pressure of the building collapsing.
On this day, there were seven people killed and five people injured in an auto accident in downtown 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 Day Six.
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 on site 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 always 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 and then 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 some folks.
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 several times since September 11th. They gave their time to uphold 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. 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. There I was scheduled to meet Chaplain Ken Childress. 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 trailers as temporary offices and laboratories to conduct their lab work and their investigations.
At the end of this street there are positioned ten refrigerated semi-trailers. They are used to store bodies and body parts. Two of the trailers are used to store unidentified passengers from the Queens airplane crash. There are eight pathologists on duty examining bodies. There are no autopsies being performed. They are only working to try and identify victims.
When the body of a firefighter or police officer arrives at the morgue from Ground Zero, a lot of things swing into motion. The commander of the morgue announces the arrival. The on duty chaplain is summoned to the ambulance along with the police officers present. When the body is removed from the ambulance a chaplain says a prayer with the commander at his side. The officers stand at attention and the body is taken inside the morgue. This scene sometimes takes place several times a day.
While I was on duty, a NYPD detective offered to take me into the morgue’s body processing area. Therefore, I was granted a rare opportunity to visit inside the morgue’s facilities. Few people, other then those who are authorized, are allowed inside the morgue. The detective's name was Doreen; she had been a NYPD police officer for seventeen years. Her husband is also an NYPD officer. Her job at the morgue was to process all the personal property that is discovered either on a victim or property found in the debris at Ground Zero. She works twelve-hour shifts six days a week. She’s been doing this job for weeks. She had a colorful vocabulary, but, beyond that pretense, she had a passion for her job.
Just as we were entering the morgue, Doreen was called to do a property log. A male victim had just arrived from Ground Zero. He was a civilian, and only part of his lower body was discovered. His wallet was part of his possession and it was Doreen’s job to sort through the wallet and log all the items in it. She asked me to step over to the processing table with her and her assistant. We put on our cotton masks and rubber gloves. Doreen brought over the wallet and a twenty-dollar bill that was in a plastic bag. The wallet was thick with a lot of items in it. The twenty-dollar bill had taken on a very peculiar looking green tint to it. The wallet was decomposing because it was made from leather. The wallet had become saturated with the smell of decomposing body chemicals.
The detective took the items out of the wallet and spread them out on the table. She named them off and her assistant logged them on a form. The odor coming from the wallet was very strong. The wallet itself was deteriorating and Doreen’s gloves had become very dirty. The discharge of odor from the wallet was so strong that it was affecting her. She pulled down her mask and asked me to put some Vicks under her nose to help alleviate the odor.
The items in the wallet were no different then what any of us would have in our own wallet or purse; a driver's license, credit cards, family pictures and some miscellaneous items. There was a picture of an attractive looking woman in a white evening dress. In all probability, that was a picture of this man’s wife. She soon would get a call from the police telling her that they have identified her husband’s body. The family will then make arrangements for the funeral home to pick up his body. Finally, after a long wait, a family will be able to have a funeral for their loved one.
Doreen told me that many times they had to restrain distressed family members from trying to climb right into the body bag of their decomposing loved one when they were being picked up. As you can see the devastation of the World Trade Center goes far beyond Ground Zero.
After Doreen finished logging this man’s property, she gathered it up and put it into a baggy, and tossed it on to the gurney that the body was laying on.
We washed up, and then we went into the main section of the morgue. We entered an a