New York police officers grieve for their lost brethren

Many hold out hope of finding some alive

Terrorism Strikes America

Heros In Blue

September 18, 2001|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - Covered in the white ash that was once the World Trade Center, police officers spoke for the first time yesterday about their search for those missing - including many of their brethren - since terrorists crashed planes into the Twin Towers last Tuesday.

"I knew them all," Officer Mark DeMarco said of the 14 Emergency Service Squad officers who are among the missing police. "It's a big family atmosphere. It sounds repetitive, but everybody is a big family. We all stick together. You're hurting when you lose one person, but the magnitude of this goes way beyond that."

As several officers described what it's like trying to rescue their fellow officers and more than 5,000 other people reported missing in the World Trade Center catastrophe, the Police Department released pictures of the 23 officers trapped beneath the avalanche of cement and steel when the towers collapsed after being struck by hijacked commercial airliners.

The officers working on the "pile," as police union president Patrick Lynch called the mounds of rubble yesterday, are not ready to concede their brethren are dead, even with a week having passed since the attack.

"This is a rescue operation," a teary-eyed Lynch said, "and we'll stay on that pile until we rescue someone."

DeMarco was with a team of Emergency Service Squad officers in Tower One trying to evacuate people from the stairwell when "we heard a massive rumble, and we were told the other tower was coming down."

DeMarco was trapped in the rubble after ducking into 6 World Trade Center. He said after wandering in the dark he and five other officers were able to make their way out of the building. Others weren't so lucky.

He said that on Wednesday, "I was able to get back and direct some of our officers where we were. Right now I know the location of where these officers and firemen were."

The problem is rescue workers can't reach them.

"It's a horror to know that they're in there," said Officer Bill Breury, another Emergency Services Squad officer. "It's very frustrating to know that we just can't go to where they are and find them."

The officers' stories Monday were not only filled with frustration but also the despair of not having recovered a single body since Wednesday. The stories are also full of heroism.

John Perry, who had worked in the Police Department's Advocate's Office for several years and recently had been transferred to the 40th Precinct, was filing his retirement papers at headquarters Tuesday when the planes hit. He ran from police headquarters to the disaster site and hasn't been seen since.

Joe Vigiano, a highly decorated officer stationed in Harlem, was another trapped in the rubble. His brother, John Vigiano, a firefighter, also responded and is missing.

Sgt. Rodney Gillis had finished his midnight to 8 a.m. shift on Tuesday and was hanging around talking to the next crew when the call came in.

"Rodney had finished his tour, but he responded anyway," said Mario Zorvic, a fellow emergency services officer. Gillis is still among the missing.

Michael Coppola, an officer in Transit District 4, said two men from his unit also haven't been accounted for - Mark Ellis, who is engaged to be married, and Ramon Suarez. Suarez was videotaped by a television crew carrying an injured woman out of the building.

He apparently went back into the building trying to save more people and hasn't been seen since.

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