NEW YORK - At the end of an impossible day when it felt like the world fractured wide open, the detectives in the 79th Precinct received an unexpected report — a crime that had nothing to do with terrorism.
The day was Sept. 11, 2001.
A murder happened at the corner of Albany Avenue and Decatur Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. When the available officers arrived, the circumstances became even more strange. The victim was a Polish immigrant who was never supposed to be in the neighborhood.
Two decades later, the killing of Henryk Siwiak — New York City's only murder outside of Ground Zero on 9/11 — remains unsolved.
"Around 11:30 at night, we get a notification, a male shot over on the location of Albany in the confines of the 79," Tom Joyce said. "We're like, You got to be kidding me."
Joyce is a retired lieutenant who worked in the 79th Precinct at the time.
Despite the intense focus from law enforcement and first responders in Lower Manhattan, a detective was dispatched to the scene in Brooklyn.
"He had a Polaroid camera — it was right around the time when we were transitioning from Polaroid to digital photographs," Joyce said.
The Crime Scene Unit, which would normally respond to major crimes like a homicide, was not available. Everyone from this particular unit was working at Ground Zero. Instead, an evidence collection team was sent to the location.
There's a difference.
"The less serious offenses like low-level burglaries, car break-ins and stuff like that are getting the evidence collections teams," Joyce said.
But under the circumstances, he believes it was the absolute best the department could do on that night.
"They did a phenomenal job, they really stepped up and handled the homicide scene, which they probably never have done before," Joyce said. "Unfortunately for Mr. Siwiak, he got the best response that we were capable of on Sept. 11, 2001, but certainly not to the level that the New York City Police Department would ever consider acceptable in any other circumstance."
Siwiak had moved to the United States 11 months earlier. He was living near his sister in the Rockaways in Queens and working odd jobs to send money back home to support his wife and two young children. His family had not joined him in the U.S.
"He is that hard-working immigrant [story] who came over with the view of opportunity from America," said Mike Prate, a retired detective who eventually became the lead investigator on the case.
On 9/11, Siwiak saw the Twin Towers fall while working at a construction site in Lower Manhattan. Then, several hours later, he took the subway to another job — an overnight shift waxing floors at a grocery store in Brooklyn.
But he wound up nearly four miles from where he was trying to go.
"What he ended up doing was taking a train and getting off at the wrong stop," Prate said. "And that led him down the path to where he ended up."
At the time, the neighborhood near Decatur and Albany was one of the toughest in the city.
"The block of Albany Avenue was heavy, heavy gang, heavy narcotics, heavy violence," Prate said.
Exactly what happened next remains a mystery but Siwiak was approached or "engaged" by a group in the neighborhood.
"There's some type of struggle and then there are gunshots," Prate said. "He's struck multiple times."
Siwiak didn't die right away. He was able to cross Decatur Avenue, run up some stairs, and ring a doorbell for help.
"Nobody comes to the door. He comes down the stairs and collapses on the sidewalk and that's where he died," Detective George Harvey said.
Harvey was an officer in the 79th Precinct when Siwiak was killed. Now he's the lead detective on the case.
"He didn't deserve to get what he got," Harvey said.
Siwiak wasn't robbed.
His family has speculated he may have been targeted in the aftermath of the attacks because of his broken English and army fatigue jacket he was wearing that night.
But with residents in the area not cooperating, no surveillance cameras, and no clear motive, the case went cold. Harvey said all angles of the case are being investigated. He said he hopes as the neighborhood has changed, someone who knows something may also change their mind.
"Around the anniversary, we put up reward posters, again, with his photo on it," Harvey said, "hoping that maybe somebody will remember it or have a conscience or come forward."
A $12,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in this case. If you can help, contact NYPD's Crime Stoppers at 800-577-8477 (English), 888-577-4782 (Español),
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