A RETIRED cop is calling for a fresh investigation into the cold-blooded murder of a man who was shot dead in New York City hours after the 9/11 attacks – as the case remains unsolved 21 years on.
Henryk Siwiak, 46, bears the lonely distinction of being the last person to have died in New York City on September 11, 2001.
The father-of-two, who had moved to the US from his native Krakov in Poland less than a year earlier in pursuit of the American dream, was gunned down on a street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, at 11.40pm.
Just hours before, Siwiak had been working at a construction site in lower Manhattan when he looked up to see American Airlines Flight 11 slam into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46am.
As debris rained down from the sky and panic descended on the streets, a different kind of desperation overcame Siwiak: the site he was working at was forced to close and he urgently needed to find a new job.
Unable to afford to go even a day without working, Siwiak returned home and then walked to a Polish employment agency in Brooklyn where he was offered a job cleaning a Pathmark supermarket for $10 per hour.
His shift was due to start at midnight – but Siwiak never arrived.
And what happened to him next continues to perplex investigators more than two decades later.
A FRESH LOOK
Retired NYPD Commander Tom Joyce, who oversaw the NYPD’s 79th Precinct in Bed-Stuy at the time, says the death of Siwiak is one among only a few cases that continue to haunt him from his 16-year career in law enforcement.
In an interview with The U.S. Sun, he called on investigators to revisit the facts and evidence in the case with modern technology and other resources not afforded to his officers at the time.
“They need to look at this with fresh eyes and new technology,” he said.
“Also, the perspectives of some of the witnesses who may have been too afraid to come forward with information back then may have changed their perspectives.
“I don’t like the word closure,” added Joyce, “but I want to find all the answers for the victim’s family … I don’t know that if you ever lose somebody tragically like that it’s a closure, per se, maybe one chapter is closed but the book is not closed for sure.
“So in this case, which has a little bit of a special meaning because it happened on 9/11, we have a lot of regrets as detectives and, speaking for the police department, we wish we could have given it the resources and the time it deserved.”
A FATEFUL MISHAP
In the months preceding his tragic death, Siwiak had been working all kinds of odd jobs across the Big Apple to make enough cash to send his wife Ewa, and their two children – Gabriela, then 17, and Adam, 10 – a few hundred dollars each month back in Poland.
He left them behind in October 2000 after losing his job as a railway inspector. With Poland in the throes of a sharp economic downturn, he struggled to find another.
But seeing the U.S. as the land of opportunity, he moved across the Atlantic to live near his sister Lucyna in Far Rockaway, Queens, taking up any work he could find.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Siwiak’s relentless work ethic took him to a building site a stone’s throw away from the World Trade Center, unwittingly providing him a front-row seat to one of modern history’s most horrifying catastrophes.
However, the Pole had no time to mourn or take in the full gravity of the horror he’d witnessed; the building site was closed immediately and Siwiak didn’t have the luxury to wait for it to reopen again.
This case is one that’s really stuck with me. The way he died is not the American dream.
So as swarms of New Yorkers stood in the street, staring up in terror as the city’s largest building was consumed by fire and smoke, he returned home to Queens to phone Ewa and let her know he was safe.
During that same conversation, he informed her he was heading back out again in search of a new job.
Ewa pleaded with him to stay home but he refused, instead walking to an employment agency where he lined up a cleaning job at a Pathmark on Albany Avenue, in Brooklyn, for that night.
Before leaving, Siwiak asked his landlady for directions to the Albany Avenue Pathmark and the pair consulted a subway map to outline the fastest route.
Siwiak then put on his favorite outfit, a choice that would later be scrutinized by detectives: a camouflage jacket, matching pants, and black army boots that he’d bought from a Salvation Army.
He then headed out on the A-train toward Utica Avenue, closely following the instructions on his map.
But Siwiak and his landlady had accidentally mapped out a route to Albany Avenue in Bed-Stuy – nearly four miles away from the Albany Avenue location in Farragut where Siwiak was supposed to be.
The mishap would prove fatal.
It’s believed Siwiak got off the train near 1 Albany Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant just after 11pm, arriving at the top of the avenue.
He then made the crucial mistake of turning left instead of right, which eventually brought him to the intersection of Albany and Decatur Street.
At the time, the neighborhood was a hotbed for narcotic activity and gang shootings, Joyce told The U.S. Sun.
“It was a very proud community predominantly African-Americans but had pockets of drug crime, gang warfare, and violence – holding the hard-working people in Bed Stuy hostage,” he said.
“It wasn’t the kind of place you wanted to go wandering around alone at night … They didn’t take kindly to outsiders.”
But alone and a lost outsider Siwiak was.
It’s not known what happened to him next, but somewhere near 119 Decatur Street police believe he was confronted by a group of “unknown individuals.”
Witnesses told investigators they heard the voices of men arguing followed by a succession of gunshots.
Many witnesses, Joyce recalled, told police that they were too scared to look out the window or race to Siwiak’s aid.
A wounded Siwiak, who had been shot once in the chest, staggered across the street and managed to climb up the stoop of a brownstone where he frantically rang the bell pleading for someone to help him.
But those desperate calls went unanswered.
He then stumbled down the steps and fell face down on the sidewalk where he died.
“This case is one that’s really stuck with me,” Joyce admitted. “The way he died is not the American dream.
“The idea of people coming here for a better life, a life of better freedom, and to be killed the way he was – it just hurts.”
POLICE STRETCHED THIN
Joyce said his precinct was always “short-handed” because Bed-Stuy was such a busy neighborhood for crime at the time.
“To give scale: In 2001, we were probably at 35 Detectives handling about 5000 criminal cases a year, probably doing about 20 murders and about 75 non-fatal shootings.
“That’s a lot of work for 35 Detectives. We were always tapped, we were always stretched out – and then combine that with the events of 9/11.”
Officers with the 79th, like most of the first responders in New York City on 9/11, were dispatched in and around lower Manhattan, close to the wreckage of where the Twin Towers once stood.
By the time a call came in about the shooting of a man in Brooklyn, Joyce said he had only one detective to spare, so he sent him down to Bed-Stuy with a Polaroid camera.
The NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit, which typically aids in investigating homicides and sexual assault cases, was also unable to tend to the scene.
The response to the murder was probably less than 10% of the number of resources that would normally be devoted to that kind of case
Instead, one person from the evidence collection team, which normally responds to burglaries and other nonfatal crimes, was sent to help the lone detective.
“Just about every office was out working somewhere close to the 9/11 site,” said Joyce.
“The NYPD dispatched the evidence collection team, which is a much smaller, less experienced, and less capable team because our more advanced forensic technology crime scene unit was dispatched to Manhattan and the World Trade Centre, like everyone else.
“The response to the murder was probably less than 10% of the number of resources that would normally be devoted to that kind of case,” Joyce added.
“They did the best they could.”
Complicating matters, witnesses were reportedly reluctant to share any information with police.
A lot of residents told police they heard the shots, but all claimed to have seen nothing.
“They were either scared for their lives or just wanted to be left alone,” Joyce said.
“Very little came out of it, and police resources continued to be stretched for another six months after 9/11.”
NO ANSWERS, ONLY THEORIES
Siwiak was shot at between six and eight times but hit only once.
The bullet that struck him ripped through his chest and one of his lungs.
Shell casings recovered from the scene indicated that the weapon used was a .40 caliber pistol, an uncommon type of handgun.
But with so few other clues to go on, the investigation into Siwiak’s murder quickly hit a wall.
In the two decades since, still no suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made.
In a statement to The U.S. Sun, a spokesperson for the NYPD said the case “remains active and ongoing” though declined to specify whether any new leads had recently emerged.
The current lead investigator on the case, George Harvey, deferred comment to a public information officer.
In the meantime, both Joyce and Siwiak’s family are left only with theories about what happened to Henryk that night.
One theory, and what Joyce deemed the most likely, was that Siwiak was the victim of a botched robbery.
Siwiak’s family has sought to discredit that theory in the past because Henryk was found dead with his wallet in his back pocket that contained more than $75 in cash.
“But just because someone gets robbed and they still have money on them and their watch or their wallets, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an attempted robbery,” Joyce countered.
A second theory, pushed by the family at the time, was that the Polish native, dressed in his military fatigues and with his foreign tongue, may have been mistaken for a terrorist.
In an interview with The U.S. Sun last year, marking 20 years since Siwiak’s murder, his sister Lucyna said she now thinks he may have been killed as part of a gang initiation.
“He may [have] run into a gang in the wrong part of town,” she said.
“Sometimes, you know, they must kill you” if you walk onto their turf, she said detectives told her.
9/11’S LAST VICTIM
Siwiak was among 2,997 people who died on September 11, 2001, including the 19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
But because the deaths in the attack do not count toward the city’s crime statistics, Siwiak’s death is the only murder recorded in New York City for that day.
It’s a murder that has continued to haunt Joyce and other detectives with the 79th Precinct, who still hope to bring about a resolution for Siwiak’s family.
Every year on September 11, officers with the department hand out fliers and put up posters with Siwiak’s face on it, seeking new leads.
The NYPD is offering a reward of $10,000 and Crime Stoppers will pay an additional $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder of Henryk Siwiak.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS. Callers should refer to the Crime Stoppers Poster Number BK-1375 when calling.
9/11 timeline of events
The 9/11 terror attacks occurred 20 years ago. Here is a timeline of the day:
- 5:45am – Hijackers get through security in Portland, Maine and board American Airlines Flight 11 that was scheduled to fly to Boston.
- 7:59am – American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston to Los Angeles. The plane is carrying 76 passengers, 11 crew and five hijackers.
- 8:15am – United Airlines Flight 175, carrying 51 passengers, nine crew and five hijackers, takes off from Boston to Los Angeles.
- 8:20am -American Airlines Flight 77 takes off from Washington, DC. The plane is carrying 53 passengers, six crew and five hijackers.
- 8:42am – United Airlines Flight 93 takes off from Newark. The plane is carrying 33 passengers, seven crew and four hijackers. The flight was bound to San Francisco.
- 8:46am – Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
- 9:03am – Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
- 9:36am – Vice President Dick Cheney is evacuated by Secret Service agents to an undisclosed location.
- 9:37am – Flight 77 hits the Pentagon building in Washington, DC.
- 9:45am – The US Capitol and White House are both evacuated.
- 9:59am – The South Tower was the first to collapse after burning for around 56 minutes.
- 10:03am – United Airlines flight 93 crashes into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The passengers and crew got together and stormed the cockpit of the hijacked plane. All passengers on board are killed.
- 10:28am – The North Tower collapses.
- 8:30pm – President George W. Bush addresses the US from the White House regarding the attacks. Almost 3,000 Americans died in the terror attacks.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6186132/911-dad-murder-shooting-investigation/ Calls for fresh investigation into cold-blooded shooting of dad on 9/11 in murder over-stretched cops never solved