This story originally aired on WNYC Radio on September 7, 2011.
NEW YORK—At around 11:45 p.m., on September 11th, 2001, the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, were nearly empty as most residents were transfixed by TV screens, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the terror attacks that had shaken the city earlier that day.
But Mona Miller who lives at 121 Decatur Street just off Albany Avenue, was taking care of her ailing mother, and she suddenly heard an argument and then a gunshot.
“I heard a couple of men talking, arguing and I heard a shot,” she recalled. “I don’t know if I heard a shot or couple of shots but I didn’t come to the window because I don’t dare come to the window.”
After the police arrived, she peered out the window and saw a man in a military fatigues lying on the sidewalk in front of the building next door: It was Henryk Siwiak, a Polish immigrant, who had been fatally shot in the chest.
It was the only homicide in New York City recorded on September 11, 2001. And it remains unsolved.
Listen to Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska’s radio story about Henryk Siwiak:
Ten years later it’s hard to reconstruct Siwiak’s last day and even harder to find a motive for his killing. Police recovered seven shell casings from across the street, but only one bullet that came from 0.40 caliber handgun hit him.
The 46-year-old father of two was in the midst of looking for a job. Work was the reason he had come to the U.S. 11 months earlier.
In Poland he worked at the railroad, but didn’t earn much and had little prospects of improving his family’s situation.
His sister, Lucyna, had been living in the U.S. for six years. When he made the trip and decided to stay for a while — even though he didn’t have legal documents — he lived with her in Far Rockaway, Queens, and then moved only a few blocks away.
He did all kinds of jobs: construction, cleaning — whatever brought in cash.
Every month he sent a few hundred dollars to his wife Ewa and two children, Gabriela, then 17, and Adam, 10, whom he left in Cracow, his sister said. He was quiet, she said.
“He never drank alcohol and didn’t have many friends,” Lucyna said.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, he went to Lower Manhattan.
According to his sister says he worked there at a construction site, but after the attack on the World Trade Center his workplace was shut down.
So he walked to Brooklyn and sometime later went to a Polish employment agency. There he was offered a job: to clean a Pathmark supermarket in Flatbush. The pay was around $10 an hour and he would start that same night.