It is now 15 years later, and for some, the 9/11 Anniversary, makes it feel as though that frightening day was only 15 seconds ago. The September attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist assaults that stunned the entire world. This unforgotten nightmare took place on U.S. soil on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. However, this 9/11 anniversary, some remember another horrific assault that would shock New York’s Polish community.
In awe, the entire planet witnessed the 9/11 grisly scene of two planes colliding into the Twin Towers, killing 2,996 people. The picture would be forever embedded in the minds of New Yorkers. There is one scene that will not be inserted in many memories. The murder of a Polish Immigrant, Henryk Siwiak, the last killing that would take place that day.
Who was Henryk Siwiak?
For those who knew Siwiak, he was just an ordinary man with common dreams. He was a loving husband, caring father, and a devoted brother. One thing he was not, was fluent in speaking English. A flaw that many believed contributed to his death, the night of 9/11. He dreamed of finding work in the States. Siwiak was an inspector for the Polish State Railways, in Poland. However, that would soon end, as he would eventually be laid off a year before his untimely demise.
Months before 9/11, he found himself in New York, living with his sister, Lucyna. She had already made a life for herself in Far Rockaway, Queens, just six years before her brother Siwiak arrived. However, Lucyna was not his only relative. He would leave behind in Poland, a wife, Ewa and two kids, Gabriela, 17, and Adam, 10.
Siwiak longed to go back to Poland but became bewitched by the splendor and beauty of New York City. It was a fondness that might have perhaps cost him his life. In spite of not having a work permit, he chose to stick around in the Big Apple to find better work. His wife and kids did not worry about being neglected. Siwiak sent them several hundred dollars a month. Ewa, a high school biology teacher, was elated to receive the money, especially with the family experiencing extreme financial hard times.
Nevertheless, they did not let these rough times stand in the way of their ambitions. For years, Siwiak and his wife longed to build their dream home in Poland, but that dream would never come to pass. Siwiak was relentless in his job search, but New York would not make it easy for him. There were many doors closed in his face because of his poor English, but Siwiak did not let this discourage him. With a little bit of determination and classes to improve his English, he took to pounding the pavement, until Siwiak landed a job.
His willpower paid off. After answering an ad in the Polish-language newspaper, known as the Nowy Dziennik, on the morning of 9/11, Siwiak would be hired by a cleaning service at a Pathmark supermarket, in the Farragut section of Brooklyn.
Unlike his sister’s street smarts and discernment, Siwiak was naive and unperceptive. New York was a tough town, and the streets could be cruel. Daily, Siwiak would hear the warning of his sister explaining to him the dangers of person that could barely speak English.
“I told him constantly how dangerous this city can be, especially on 9/11,” she mentioned to the Associated Press during an interview. “But then, it did no good, he just wouldn’t believe me,” Lucyna said, “Because he fell in love with the New York.”
However, New York would not love him back. Before the year was over, Siwiak would lose his job as a construction worker on the morning of 9/11, but Siwiak did not waste any time. By noon, he would be employed again with the cleaning service, sadly, Siwiak would never make it to work.
The Dreadful Night
Ecstatic that he knew he could work that night, Siwiak phoned his wife, Ewa, in Poland. News of 9/11 had already gone all over the world, and Siwiak did not hold back from his wife that he witnessed the horror of watching, the hijacked plane crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 that morning.
However, it was not the shock of watching the United Airlines Flight 175, collide into the towers that frightened Ewa. “I was scared for my husband. I don’t know what it was but felt something wrong was going to happen. So, I told him just stay at home and don’t go to work,” Ewa remembered later.
It would be the last phone call Siwiak would ever make to his family. Ewa would not be the only one that feared for his life. The landlady begged him not to leave, explaining to him how dangerous that part of town was, particularly for a person who barely spoke English.
Once again, Siwiak ignored the warnings. Before he left, he put on a camouflage jacket, with corresponding pants and black walking boots. He threw his backpack over his shoulders after stuffing it with a change of clothes. Siwiak said one last good-bye to his landlady, and that would be the last time she would see him alive.
Siwiak left home that evening of 9/11 on the way to work, very much aware of the horror and the shock of a city under attack. It was earlier that morning that he consoled a petrified woman at an employment agency in Bay Ridge. The lady had just learned that her husband was killed in the Twin Towers. Siwiak’s reassuring cheered this distraught woman, but there would be no consoling for him, hours later when he would stagger through the streets and collapse dead.
As Siwiak boarded the A train to the Utica Avenue station, near the north end of Albany Avenue, it is almost sure that he was experiencing the fear in the air, on that scary day of 9/11. As he sat on the train, on his way to an unfamiliar place, it would end up being his last route that Siwiak would ever take.
His destination was that area of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, one of the city’s more dangerous districts. It was not only dangerous but notorious for drug dealing, robbery, and assault for those who naively wandered into the area.
A longtime occupant expressed to radio station WNYC that the area is only safe after sunrise, “when the sun goes down, it’s a different story. You’re basically on your own.” Around 11 p.m., Siwiak was not just about to walk into a midst of 9/11 paranoia but was not familiar at all with the man he was suppose to meet with from the service. However, to make it easier to locate him, Siwiak told the agency that he would be wearing camouflage.
Siwiak got off the subway and departed at sharply 11:40 p.m. Inhabitants said later, they heard an argument, trailed by gunshots. Nearby on Decatur Street, a woman rushed to the window, after hearing shouts but feared for her sick mother, so she never actually looked out.
A trail of blood was left behind, which showed that he staggered to a house and rang the doorbell. Siwiak was shot in the lungs, and blood was pouring out from the wound. He collapsed face down on the street.
A call was made to 9-1-1, and at around 11:42 p.m., after the police and ambulance arrived, Siwiak was pronounced dead. The only evidence retrieved from the crime scene was the shell casings from the .40-caliber firearm; Siwiak was shot seven times. However, only one of those bullets took his life.
The Cold Case
Now, 14 years later, what happened that night remains a mystery. Over the years, there have been dozens of theories, and robbery was not one of them. At the scene, Siwiak’s wallet was found with $75.00.
His sister, Lucyna has her theory that the 9/11 killer may have mistaken her brother as a terrorist. She believes his camouflage attire made him look aggressive. She also thought his dark hair and flawed, English accent, may have given someone the impression that Siwiak was an Arab.
Even Detectives found that there was a strong possibility that Siwiak’s killer might have thought he was an invader. Since the deaths from those assaults are not counted in the city’s official crime data, Siwiak’s killing is the first homicide recorded in New York City on 9/11.
According to “Psychology Today,” a terrorist attack activates two differing consumption instincts. One of those is feeling the loss of control. The first impulse a person has is to get out of the way and be safe. The second instinct causes people to behave in greedy and selfish ways. Thinking about death leads to heightened barbaric behavior towards others or the environment. Could that lack of concern for others have been the killer’s behavior on 9/11?
Either way, there is no evidence to give weight to this theory, and on this 9/11 anniversary, Siwiak’s murder remains unsolved. There are many unanswered questions in this case. During 9/11, detectives barely had the proper analytical resources to handle the crime.
It was impossible for The NYPD to bring its full resources to the crime scene, partially because they were needed in lower Manhattan. Furthermore, the area was not secured which resulted with getting poor forensic evidence. Since the typical Crime Scene Unit was not around, an evidence-collection unit was used in their place. According to experts, the problem with using the latter is that they are generally used in burglary crimes, not homicides.
Clearly, this murder was no burglary. Was Siwiak denied a proper investigation? According to an NYPD detective, “The NYPD had to work with what they had.”
Gone, But not Forgotten
As time passed on, Siwiak would be known as the following:
To be the last man killed on Sept. 11 is to be hopelessly anonymous, quietly mourned by a few while, year after year, the rest of the city looks toward Lower Manhattan. No one reads his name into a microphone at a ceremony. No memorial marks the sidewalk where he fell with a bullet in his lung.
– Michael Wilson, The New York Times
There are no more leads today than there was 14 years ago. No arrests have been made, and there have been no new witnesses.
A $12,000 reward has been offered for Siwiak’s killing, but in Lucyna’s eyes, no prize will ever heal the pain of losing her brother.
For some families, the 9/11 anniversaries brings back the time when Americans had experienced the largest attack on their soil by foreigners. Others are feeling the pain of a massacre that other nations having been feeling for decades. For people like Lucyna Siwiak, it is a time to remember a homicide that got little media attention.
As she returns to the yearly monument services every September 11 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and as the world comes together to celebrate the 9/11 Anniversary, the multiple murder of Henryk Siwiak, remains a mystery.
Opinion News by Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne
WNYC: Revisiting the City’s Lone And Unsolved Homicide on 9/11
The New York Times: Killed on Sept. 1, but Destined to be Mourned on Quietly, Only by a Few
Daily Mail: The unsolved murder of 9/11: Family of father-of-two, who was the only New York homicide reported outside of terror attacks on that tragic day, continue their fight for answers
Image Courtesy of Monica Volpin’s Flickr Page – Public Domain