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.
The case of the last man killed that day remains unsolved. Had he been shot a day before, the police might have arrested someone, but the sad truth is that the police response to the 911 call at 11:42 that night was diminished by the need for officers at key city sites and at the place fast becoming known as ground zero.
“He wasn’t afforded the initial experts in processing the homicide scene,” said Detective Michael Prate, on whose desk the cold-case file rests. “It was old school. If it wasn’t 9/11, you would have had eight or nine detectives out here canvassing the scene. That night, you might have had two or three.”
His name was Henryk Siwiak. He was an immigrant, and in the middle of a city staggering with loss on that night, he was looking forward to starting something new.
Mr. Siwiak, 46, had been living in New York about 11 months since moving here from Poland to find work and send money home to his wife of 20 years, Ewa, and their two children, Gabriela, 18, and Adam, 11. His job in Poland as a railroad man had dried up, and now he was living near his sister, Lucyna Siwiak, in the Rockaways. On Sept. 11, he had found a job, mopping floors overnight in a Pathmark supermarket on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn. He was to start that night.
He put on his favorite outfit, a choice that would be scrutinized by detectives later: camouflage pants and a matching coat that he had bought from the Salvation Army, and black boots. He carried sneakers and another pair of pants in a backpack.
He had asked the landlady at his house on Beach 91st Street how to get to the store, and they found Albany Avenue on a subway map. Take the A train to Utica, she told him, not realizing that she was sending him to 1 Albany Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and not 1525 Albany Avenue, where the store was, more than three miles away in Farragut.
He walked up the steps of the subway station sometime after 11 p.m. Camouflage or no, he stood out right away. “I passed the white guy on Fulton Street,” a witness told detectives later.
He reached the wrong stretch of Albany and turned right, the wrong way. The block, at the top of the avenue, was dangerous, Detective Prate said, and that night would not have been any different. “I don’t know if the World Trade Center falling down really affects the drug trade on Albany Avenue,” he said.
Neighbors heard shots. A blood trail showed that Mr. Siwiak, wounded, crossed Decatur Street and went up a stoop to ring a doorbell for help.
“I heard the bell ringing,” a woman in the building told detectives later, “but I wasn’t answering it after I heard those shots.”
Mr. Siwiak went back down the steps and fell on his face and died.
The Police Department’s Crime Scene Unit aids in homicide and sexual-assault investigations, hauling out big, bright lights to scenes like this one to help find fingerprints, footprints and other clues. But the unit could not come to Decatur that night. Practically every officer in town was working a 12th or 14th hour somewhere else when Mr. Siwiak fell. Instead, an evidence collection team, which normally responds to burglaries and other nonfatal crimes, investigated the scene.
Did they miss anything? Perhaps not, but the idea gnaws at Detective Prate. It is what it is, he said: “The Police Department gave that investigation what it could do that day.”
Ten years later, not a single witness to the shooting has surfaced. Detective Prate has interviewed people arrested in other crimes in the area, hoping to make a deal for information, with no luck.
Why was Mr. Siwiak shot? He died with three $20 bills, two $5 bills, a single and $4.16 in change in his pockets, untouched. Is it possible that his paramilitary appearance and heavy accent led to his death?
Detective Prate would not rule anything out. There is a $12,000 reward. In Poland, Mr. Siwiak’s widow has all but given up. “I’m afraid this is forever,” she said on the telephone this week.
Every year on the anniversary, Mr. Siwiak’s sister, now 62, makes her way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, another mourner in the crowd, but separate. Sometimes it is too crowded, or she is told she needs a ticket, and so she puts it off for a couple of days. Nudged aside, by a city’s larger loss.