ALMOST three thousand people were murdered in New York City on September 11, 2001 – but only one of those killings remains unsolved: the cold-blooded shooting of a Polish immigrant in Brooklyn.
Henryk Siwiak, 46, bears the lonely distinction of being the last person to have died on 9/11. The father-of-two, who had moved to the US 11 months earlier in pursuit of the American dream, was gunned down on a street in Bed-Stuy at 11.40pm.
Hours earlier, he had been working at a construction site in lower Manhattan when he looked up to see American Airlines Flight 11 slam into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46am.
As smoke and ash filled the air and panic descended on the streets of the city, 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.
For months, the Pole had been working all kinds of odd jobs 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 and struggling to find another. Seeing the US 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.
"Henryk was a workaholic," Lucyna Siwiak, now 72, told The Sun. "All he did was work, work, work because he had to. He wanted to provide for his family back home."
Unable to afford going even one day without working, Siwiak, who spoke very little English, returned home to Queens to phone Ewa and let her know he was safe.
She pleaded with him to stay home but he refused, walking 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 puzzle investigators two decades later.
'WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME'
After lining up the cleaning job, Siwiak asked his landlady for directions to the Albany Avenue Pathmark. The pair consulted a subway map and outlined his 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. But unbeknownst to him, he and his landlady had 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.
He's believed to have got off the train near 1 Albany Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant just after 11pm, arriving at the start 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, retired NYPD Commander Tom Joyce told The Sun.
Joyce, who oversaw the NYPD's 79th Precinct in Bed-Stuy at the time, said: "It was a very proud community predominantly African American but had pockets of drug crime, gang warfare, and violence – holding the hard-working people in Bed Stuy hostage.
"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 unclear 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 his desperate calls were not answered. 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.
The NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit, which typically aids in investigating homicides and sexual assault cases, was also unable to tend to the scene.
Instead, one person from the evidence collection team, which normally responds to burglaries and other nonfatal crimes, was sent to help the lone detective.
“[The response to the murder was] had probably less than 10% of the amount of resources that would normally be devoted to that kind of case," Joyce said. "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."
SEVERAL THEORIES, NO LEADS
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.
Instead, authorities and Siwiak's family members are left only with theories about what could've 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 have 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.
Lucyna said during a 2011 interview that she believed her brother was shot because of his appearance, believing his darker complexion and inability to speak English raised an alarm with locals or undercover cops in the fraught post-attack atmosphere.
"He had army uniform and looked like an army man," she said. “He wasn’t typical Slavic man. He was like Arab or another man from East.”
Speaking to The Sun, Lucyna revealed that detectives later theorized to her that her sibling's murderers may have been a band of teenage gang members who were sent out to kill a man as part of an 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.
'STOOD LIKE A STONE'
Lucyna said she was informed of her brother's death on the morning of September 12 when she was awoken by a knock at the door from a policeman at 5am.
When the officer told her Henryk was dead, she said she "couldn't understand or believe it."
"I stood there like a stone," she remembered, "not breathing, not moving."
Falling into what she described as a trance-like state, she picked up the phone and called her sister-in-law in Poland.
"Henryk's son, Adam, answered. He was 10 at the time. And I told him his father was dead.
“His wife told me why did you tell him about his father dying. But I said I don’t know, I didn’t think. I was, maybe, too emotional to think."
The Siwiak family cried for a long time over Henryk's death, Lucyna said.
Some family members initially refused to believe he'd been killed, she added. Others, like her's and Henryk's mother, fell "extremely quiet."
Their mother became ill and died shortly after Henryk's funeral, a death Lucyna has previously attributed to a "broken heart."
SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
As the 20th anniversary of Siwiak's death approaches, Lucyna says the passage of time has done little to mitigate her devastation over her brother's murder or how much she misses him.
"We miss him terribly," she said. "Whenever I talk to my family we always speak about Henryk. He's never forgotten.
"Whenever I talk about his death, I feel like I've lost power … like someone who has lost consciousness; detached.
"It's so sad," she continued. "Every time I talk about him I get the exact same feeling. Every year – that never changes."
Lucyna said what she misses most about her brother is the sound of his laugh and the general joy his presence brought to her life.
"What I miss most is the fact he's absent. He's not physically here, he doesn't exist, nothing. That's hard to understand, even now."
She said she also no longer holds any feelings towards the idea of his killer finally being caught.
"We are completely neutral about the case because, you know, [because an arrest] won’t change anything," it won't bring him back, she said.
Lucyna said she will spend this September 11th as she has spent every other: by attending a ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral, quietly mourning her brother's death in the shadow of a larger tragedy.
Siwiak's family will also hold a ceremony of their own in their home city of Krakow, she said.
9/11'S LAST VICTIM
Siwiak was among 2,978 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 towards 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.
Each year on September 11, officers with the department hand out fliers and put up posters with Siwiak's face on it, seeking new leads.
Joyce, who retired from the NYPD in 2006 and now works in law enforcement technology sales, has called on investigators to revisit the case with fresh eyes.
He also believes that some of the witnesses who were too afraid or unwilling to come forward with vital information 20 years ago may have had a change of heart.
"I don't like the word closure … But for the victim's family and the survivors, I would like to find all the answers.
"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.
"But with this case, which has special meaning because it happened on 9/11, we have a lot of regrets as detectives that we wish we could've given Henry Siwiak's murder the resources and time that he deserved.
"It hurts that we weren't able to close the chapter. And I'm sure it hurts for the Siwiak family too."
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.
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