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NEW YORK — He came here to pursue the American Dream. Instead, the Polish immigrant was murdered in the final minutes of America's darkest day.
But unlike the nearly 3,000 other senseless murders on Sept. 11, 2001, Henryk Siwiak's death had nothing to do with terrorism and happened a borough away from the stricken World Trade Towers.
Siwiak was fatally shot in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood at 11:42 p.m., giving him the lonely distinction of being the last man killed in New York City on 9/11 — the city's only homicide reported outside the World Trade Center that day. His case remains unsolved and haunts the police officers who worked on it.
"He just got off the train at the wrong block and at the wrong time. He's a totally innocent individual," said retired NYPD Detective Mike Prate, who now works as a senior crime data analyst with LexisNexis Risk Solutions. "It was really a shame."
Prate revisited the case again and again until his retirement in 2012, but never got any leads.
His lieutenant at the time, Tom Joyce, said part of what makes Siwiak's death so maddening is its cruel timing.
"A normal response to a homicide on any other day would have gotten at least six or eight detectives to respond to the scene," Joyce, who was head of the 79th Precinct's detective squad and is now vice president of product management at license plate reader and facial recognition service Vigilant Solutions, told NBC News. "We would have had uniforms canvassing the area, we would have had computer checks running, we would have had all the forensic capabilities available."
For this homicide, "I sent one detective over there, with a Polaroid camera, who took one photo," he said. "It was really unfortunate."
Siwiak, 46, had moved 11 months earlier to Far Rockaway, Queens, from Krakow, where he earned a meager living working on the Polish railroad. In New York, he pieced together odd jobs and sent money back home to his wife Ewa, daughter Gabriela and son Adam whenever he could.
His latest gig was at a construction site in Lower Manhattan. On Sept. 11, he arrived downtown — in time to witness the planes hitting the towers. As smoke filled the clear blue sky above him, his building site shut down.
"He just got off the train at the wrong block and at the wrong time. He's a totally innocent individual."
His wife told public radio station WNYC that Siwiak went home to Queens and called her to let her know he was safe.
"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 Siwiak needed money. He walked to Brooklyn, Ewa said, and stopped at a Polish employment agency — where he was offered a night job cleaning a Pathmark supermarket for about $10 an hour. His first shift was to start as the clock struck midnight and Sept. 11 turned into Sept. 12.
Siwiak asked his landlady how to get to the Albany Avenue Pathmark and after consulting a subway map, went on his way. But unbeknownst to him, they had mapped out a route to Albany Avenue in Bed-Stuy, three miles away from the Albany Avenue location in Farragut where he was supposed to be.
"Everything else in the city shut down. It didn't seem like anything on that block shut down."
That area of Bed-Stuy was a hotbed of narcotic activity and gang shootings at the time, the former police officers said. Homicides were not unusual.
"I think he presented himself as a target," Prate said, adding that the neighborhood seemed "oblivious to everything else happening in New York City."
"Everything else in the city shut down. It didn't seem like anything on that block shut down," he said.
A bullet pierced Siwiak in the chest at the intersection of Albany Avenue and Decatur Street. He stumbled to 119 Decatur Street and rang a doorbell to try to summon help, but collapsed and died, witnesses said. No one could say who shot him.
The case still sits in a file in the 79th Precinct station, waiting to be solved.
"We continue to speak to people who get arrested up in that area to see if anybody might have been around or heard anything in regards to the incident, but nothing has panned out as of yet," said Detective George Harvey, who was a police officer in the precinct when Siwiak was killed. No suspects or persons of interest have ever been named.
But Prate holds out hope.
"It's just a matter of finding the right guy with the right information," he said. "There is a person out there who saw, knows, or heard about it."