NJ lieutenant recalls visiting grieving families

September 11, 2011 5:17:22 AM PDT
The loss of life was simply staggering, and it's not just the sheer numbers. More than 2,800 were killed, and they came from everywhere, around the world and all around the tri-state. No community was spared.

Retired Middletown police lieutenant Joe Capriotti had a heavy responsibility in the days and weeks following 9/11. It was his job to visit every grieving family in Middletown, all 37 of them, to take missing persons reports.

"You want to be able to say the right answers and the right words for these people, but in reality, no one had answers and there are no right words," Capriotti said.

Capriotti was working with the families during the day. And every night, he would volunteer his time in Lower Manhattan in the search for survivors, and later, victims' remains.

"You get strength from somewhere, either your faith in God or your dedication to what you do," he said.

As time wore on, Capriotti's responsibility changed. He was the one who had to knock on family's doors to inform them that their loved ones' remains had been found. And because of the particular horror of the attacks, Capriotti had to visit some homes again and again.

"They'd begin the grieving process, and they'd begin to heal," he said. "And I'd get a call to go back to the house and that old wound will open up again...There was one person who was so emotionally distraught that she was throwing furniture around."

Some families never got a knock on their door from Capriotti, because their loved ones' remains were never found. For those families, this memorial garden at the Middletown train station serves as a place to come and reflect.

Middletown lost 37 people in the 9/11 attacks, a staggering number, for a town of just 70,000 people.

"People have become more patriotic and showing the American spirit in the last 10 years," Middletown Mayor Anthony Fiore said.

Capriotti retired recently, due in part to the emotional strain of 9/11. He's taken up cycling, and is pedaling 200 miles from ground zero to the Pentagon this year to honor the victims.

"I feel like I'm doing something now to honor the people who were lost," he said.

That includes Capriotti's second cousin, Nils Thompson, who enlisted after 9/11 and was killed in Mosul, Iraq, the day after his 19th birthday. Capriotti carries his photo, and the names of all of Middletown's victims with him when he rides.