The last person killed in New York on 9/11

The murder of Henryk Siwiak on September 11, 2001 in Brooklyn, New York remains unsolved to this day.
Photo from ABC News

On September 11, 2001, just before midnight, Henryk Siwiak was fatally shot on a street in Brooklyn, New York. Henryk, a Polish immigrant, had gone to the location in error, to start a new job. Despite being able to make it to the door of a nearby house, Henryk eventually collapsed and died from his injuries. The circumstances surrounding his murder are tragic and the case remains unsolved.

There is speculation that the initial investigation into the crime may have been impacted by the diversion of law enforcement resources in the city following the September 11th terror attacks that morning, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Henryk was not robbed and was wearing camouflage clothing at the time of his death, leading detectives to believe that the perpetrator may have mistaken him as being connected to the attacks. It is important to note that Henryk’s death is not included in official crime statistics for New York City on September 11, 2001, as it is unrelated to the terror attacks.

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
Henryk Siwiak wearing the coat in which he was later killed.
Henryk Siwiak wearing the coat in which he was later killed – Wikimedia Commons

Henryk Siwiak on September 11th 2001

Henryk Siwiak was a 46-year-old Polish immigrant who had been living in the United States for 11 months. He lived in Queens, New York near his sister.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Henryk was working at a construction site in Lower Manhattan when the terror attacks occurred. The job site was closed and Henryk, unable to afford to wait for work to resume, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to his sister’s home.

After looking through classified ads in a Polish-language newspaper, he found a job as a cleaner at a Pathmark supermarket in Brooklyn. He went to an employment agency in the city’s Polish community to fill out paperwork and there, he comforted the owner whose husband worked at the World Trade Center and had not been in contact since the attacks.

Henryk was told he could start work later that night and returned to his home in Far Rockaway. He called his wife in Poland to assure her he was safe and that he had witnessed one of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. She later said, “I told him just in case: don’t leave tonight, because it can be dangerous in New York”.

Manhattan on 9/11, from Brooklyn Bridge
Manhattan on 9/11, from Brooklyn Bridge – Mario De Block, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The night of September 11th 2001

Henryk Siwiak, who had never been to the neighbourhood where the Pathmark supermarket was located, relied on a subway map and the advice of his landlady to take the A train to the Utica Avenue station.

However, due to a misunderstanding, the landlady did not ask for the store’s address and Henryk ended up three miles away from the store’s actual location on Albany Avenue.

Henryk was dressed in a full camouflage outfit, and black boots and carried a backpack with a change of clothes for his new job.

Despite his landlady’s warnings about the dangers of going to the store’s location, a dangerous neighbourhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, at night, especially on the evening of September 11, Henryk set out on foot towards Albany Avenue.

At one point he turned right at the Albany intersection, heading north instead of south as intended. At the time, Bedford-Stuyvesant was known to both residents and the NYPD as being a high-crime area.

Albany Avenue (Brooklyn), street sign
Андрей Романенко, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The murder of Henryk Siwiak

At around 11:40 PM on September 11th, 2001, residents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York heard an argument followed by gunshots. Henryk, who had been shot in the lung, stumbled from where he was shot towards a nearby house in search of help.

Despite ringing the doorbell, the residents inside were too afraid to open the door due to the preceding gunfire. Henryk collapsed on the street and a 9-1-1 call was made. Emergency services arrived on the scene shortly afterwards and Henryk was pronounced dead.

The investigation into the murder of Henryk Siwiak

Due to the high demand for law enforcement resources following the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD was unable to fully investigate Henryk Siwiak’s murder. The Crime Scene Unit, which would normally secure the area and collect forensic evidence in the case of a homicide, was not available and an evidence-collection unit normally used for nonviolent property crimes was used instead.

In addition, only three detectives were able to canvass the neighbourhood for potential witnesses and evidence, as opposed to the usual nine. This may have hindered the initial investigation into Henryk’s death.

The evidence-collection technicians were able to retrieve spent shell casings from the .40-caliber handgun that was used to shoot Henryk Siwiak. It was determined the shooter fired seven times but only hit Henryk once. Henryk’s wallet was found to contain $75 in cash, suggesting that robbery was not the motive for the crime or that it was attempted and failed.

The motive for the murder of Henryk Siwiak

Lucyna Siwiak, Henryk’s sister, believes that the killer may have mistaken her brother for a terrorist due to his camouflage outfit and appearance.

The first police officers on the scene also initially thought that Henryk may have been a National Guardsman due to his outfit.

Henryk’s dark hair and imperfect English, with a heavy accent, may have also contributed to the perception that he was Arab. It is possible that these factors played a role in the motivation for the crime.

I think maybe it was a mistake. There were many angry people.

Lucyna Siwiak, Henryk Siwiak’s sister

Henryk’s murder received little media attention due to the overwhelming coverage of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. The limited coverage that did occur did not happen until at least a month later. This lack of attention may have hindered the ability of witnesses to come forward and provide information about the crime.

As the deaths from the 9/11 attacks are not included in the city’s official crime statistics, Henryk Henryk’s death is the only homicide recorded in New York City on September 11, 2001.