This year marks 20 years since four coordinated terrorist attacks sent America into a spiral of panic, grief, and anger. 9/11 caused the deaths of almost 3000 people- 2,753 people died in New York, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon; and 40 people were killed on Flight 93. But one death remains unsolved: The death of Henryk Siwiak. As the rest of the country was reeling, going back and fourth between helping with rescue efforts and trying to contact their families, Henryk–who by all accounts didn’t seem to understand the extent of tragedy that surrounded him–was desperate to earn a little extra money since his work day was cut short.
46-year-old Henryk Siwiak was used to feeling desperate. The only reason he came to America was out of desperation. Henryk, a Polish immigrant, was one of many people to lose his job in 2000 as “…Poland’s economy was in shambles and a 15-percent unemployment rate hampered Siwiak’s ability to find work.” So, after losing his job with the Polish National Railroad, Henryk made the difficult decision to leave his wife and two children behind in Poland while he visited his sister Lucyna, who had moved to Far Rockaway, Queens six years previous. Shortly after his arrival Henryk, despite not having proper working papers and speaking very little English, decided to stay in the states and do what work he could to supplement his wife Ewa’s earnings as high school biology teacher. This was only meant to last long enough for the family to save up and eventually build a new house. Henryk would earn nearly $1000 a month working these jobs. Half of that would be sent back home.
By September of 2001 Henryk had found a semi-stable job at a construction site in Lower Manhattan. Following the attacks on the morning of the 11th, the constriction site was shut down and Henryk, who could not afford to wait until it reopened, immediately returned to his sister’s apartment. After combing through the classified ads of of the Polish newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, Henryk visited the employment agency in Bay Ridge to inquire about an overnight job cleaning a local supermarket. The ad read: ‘Men to Clean Stores in Brooklyn and Queens. English Not Necessary’. Henryk filled out the paperwork and accepted the shift that was expected to start at midnight that evening. It was reported that Henryk also offered a sympathetic ear and comforted the agency’s owner, whose husband worked in the World Trade Center, and had not contacted her since that morning. She would later find out her husband died during the attack.
Henryk returned to Far Rockaway where he called his wife and son. He insisted that he was safe before recounting how he saw one of the planes go into the Towers and how he heard the rumble when they fell. “I told him just in case: don’t leave tonight, because it can be dangerous in New York,” Ewa Siwiak told WNYC in 2011. But Henryk already had his instructions; to meet a man named Adam in a white car by the Pathmart supermarket at 1520 Albany Avenue in Brooklyn at midnight. Since Henryk had never met Adam before, he gave the agency a description of what he would be wearing that evening; a camouflaged Army surplus jacket and matching pants. “He like very much these clothes,” says Lucyna. “[They] were very comfortable.”
Henryk was still learning his way around the city. So, in order to insure he would arrive at the cleaning job on time, Henryk consulted with his landlady on the best way to get to Albany Avenue. The landlady was reportedly apprehensive about giving out directions. She felt the area was too dangerous to venture to at night. But Henryk would not be deterred. After looking over a subway map, it was decided that Henryk would take the A train to the Utica Avenue station, near the north end of Albany Avenue. Per All That’s Interesting, “‘She showed him on the map where Albany Avenue was,’ explained Lieutenant Tom Joyce. But Siwiak’s landlady directed him toward 1 Albany Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, three miles away from 1525 Albany Avenue, where Siwiak wanted to go. ‘That’s what’s so sad about this, that he was so far off.'”
See Also: Poser Is A Music-Fueled Mania That Isn’t Quite The Thriller It Appears To Be [Nightstream Film Festival Review]
Unaware he’d been given the wrong directions, Henryk exited the Fulton Street subway stop at approximately 11 PM, began walking and managed to catch the attention of someone. The area Henryk was walking through was known for heavy drug use and a prominent gang presence. While it is possible Henryk’s death was the result of a robbery gone wrong, the general belief of his family is that Henryk–due to his camouflage outfit and thick foreign accent–was mistaken for being Arab and his murder was retaliation for the attacks. With everyone on high alert, the police’s resources stretched thin and no witnesses willing to come forward, Henryk’s case seemed doomed from the start. And now the NYPD is in the same spot they were 20 years ago- with no promising leads and a dead man who’s murder was overshadowed by America’s darkest day.
“He was a thoughtful and intelligent man who loved to read,” Lucyna Siwiak said. “He loved his wife and children and wanted to make enough money for them to come here. “He really liked New York…he was a loving husband and a loving father. He loved making us happy,” she said. “He loved teaching his son to ride [his] bike or play chess. Loved helping me around the house…We were leading a modest but dignified life.”
Anyone with information about the death of Henryk Siwiak is asked to call 79th Precinct detectives at (718) 636-6655.