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Bin Laden's Death Reminds Port Authority Of Sept. 11


Other reactions from among the first responders to the World Trade Center. On 9/11, members of the Port Authority Police Department rushed to help rescue thousands of people. Port Authority was in charge of the towers. Thirty-seven Port Authority officers were killed that day, the largest loss of any police department in the nation's history. Back then, NPR's Chris Arnold reported on the department and he returned yesterday following the news of Osama bin Laden's death.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Everyone's heard of the NYPD, Not so much the PAPD. It's a small department - 1200 people. It's about the size of many high schools. And so, many in the department actually knew, really well, all of the officers who were killed.

Mr. LARRY MAYS (Port Authority Police Officer): John was - he was like my little brother.

ARNOLD: Port Authority Police Officer Larry Mays lost his partner, John Scala on 9/11. Scala was always at his house having dinner, playing video games with his young kids. This is Mays back 10 years ago after 9/11.

Mr. MAYS: They called him Uncle John. He came over the house. Actually they called him John Scallop, you know, and when this first happened it was every day, you know, Daddy did you find John Scallop? Is John Scallop dead? Could he be alive?

ARNOLD: Back then Larry Mays's son was calling him five times a day on his cell phone just to make sure he hadn't been killed too.

Mr. MAYS: He checks on me constantly: where are you, what time are you coming home? And if I tell him I'm getting home at 6:30 and it's 6:31 my phone is ringing. He gets up in the middle of the night and he'll hunt me down in the house, wherever I am. But he's obsessed with Ground Zero.

ARNOLD: We caught up with Larry Mays, yesterday, outside Ground Zero. He's was on duty in street clothes.

Mr. MAYS: I got promoted to detective and part of my assignment today is just to hang around and make sure that everything's going well.

ARNOLD: Mays says his son just turned 18, and has been celebrating bin Laden finally being hunted down and killed.

Mr. MAYS: Today he's happy. He's ecstatic. I'm surprised he's not here with his friends, you know, cheering. You know, and to find out his dead to them, to his generation, I guess that maybe it was like our parents' Hitler. I dont know. At seven years old that picture of him with that beard and everything that's a scary monster and that monster's been slain.

ARNOLD: But Mays says for him it's more nuanced.

Mr. MAYS: You know, last night I didnt know whether to jump up and down or cry. I went and I grabbed my flag, I hung my flag outside, I went back inside, I took a quick shot of Black House in honor of John, and all the other people who were killed, and I said that's it, Amen.

ARNOLD: Back 10 years ago, Port Authority Police Lieutenant Brian Patrick Tierney was working alongside fellow officers at Ground Zero sifting through the debris with screens. He was a tough veteran officer with a grey crew cut, his uniform covered in ash and dust and tears in his eyes. This is him speaking back then.

Lieutenant BRIAN PATRICK TIERNEY: Officers on their knees, and you would see them scoop up a little pile about two handfuls of material, of very fine dust and debris, and you'd see them scoop it up out of the pile and very gingerly, like they were holding something sacred, take it to a clear spot on the plywood and just spread it out and just gently go through it looking for bone fragments, personal items, any little thing that had gone through that screen that they might have missed.

ARNOLD: We spoke to Tierney in New York yesterday too. 10 years later, he's still feeling the effects of 9/11 in painful, and actually in some good, ways.

Lt. TIERNEY: If nothing else, it makes you appreciate every single day of your life. If for no other reason than because you've got friends that can't any longer.

ARNOLD: Since 9/11, Brian Tierney's retired, bought a beach house on the Jersey Shore, a Harley Davidson, and he says he spends a lot time with friends.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, New York.

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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.