Categorized | Bronx Neighborhoods

“Cutting off the head of a snake:” Bronxites react to Bin Laden’s death with raw memories and skepticism

Union Avenue mural of Bronx fireman Peter Bielfeld, who died on 9/11 (Photo by Camilo Hannibal Smith, Bronx Ink)

By Camilo Hannibal Smith

On the east side of Melrose, about 10 miles north of Ground Zero, a fading mural dedicated to a fallen firefighter still brightens an otherwise plain brick and concrete corner of Union Avenue and East 152nd Street. Passersby didn’t even glance at the memorial to Peter Bielfeld whose Ladder Company 42, known as La Casa del Elefante is located just a few blocks away. The news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces hadn’t shaken this pocket of New York City.

But for one resident, the image of a firefighter and an unharmed World Trade Center deserved a long glance. Elizabeth Alvarez, 48, smoked her morning cigarette as she stared at the mural from the curb. Her skepticism about whether or not Osama bin Laden was really dead didn’t keep her from feeling the emotion that thoughts of September 11, 2001 brought back.

“I didn’t have family in there, and I still can’t watch when they show the repeats,” of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, she said.

“I don’t understand war,” she continued, adding that she loves President Obama but didn’t agree with the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. She was relieved at the news, but didn’t expect terrorism against the U.S. to end. “For every Bin Laden you take out, there’s another one to take his place,” she said.

Mark Johnson, 53, sat outside the bodega next door to the mural. Although he said he believed the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, he said he felt there was a heightened possibility of another attack on New York. “You cut the head off a snake, the snake still move,” he said.

As the morning rush hour got underway, with young people and mothers making their way to school and to work, there wasn’t much talk about last night’s news. Police presence was minimal in the area, which was just a few feet from the Jackson Avenue subway station.

“All this does is help Obama with his popularity,” said Charles James, 61. He said he worked in the World Trade Center in the early 1980s, but later worked in Alaska during 9/11. He said he was more worried about things like the economy, than retaliation against the U.S. for killing Bin Laden.

Two women, Renee Z., 32, and Fawn B. 31, were walking past the mural this morning and hadn’t heard the news until speaking to a reporter. They are staying at a rehabilitation facility nearby.

“If it’s true, it would make me feel like a little bit of closure,” said Renee. “Friends of mine were firefighters and cops who died,” in the attacks. She said she lost 13 close friends in 9/11 and worked on a fundraiser at a tattoo parlor on Long Island where she’s from. She pulled up her pants leg to reveal a “Freedom” tattoo on her left ankle, which she says she received just after the 9/11 anniversary last year.

“If he’s really dead, good,” said Fawn. The two began to reminisce about where they were when the attack on the Twin Towers happened. These thoughts hadn’t entered their minds for years, they said, standing in front of Bielfeld’s mural.

Down the street, at Ladder Company 42 on Prospect Avenue, a firefighter attempted to let a reporter into the firehouse to see their own mural to their fallen hero, Peter Bielfeld. When asked about how he felt at the news of Bin Laden’s death, he quickly closed the door and turned around, saying, “No one here wants to talk to you about that,” and walked away.

While raw emotions surfaced at the thought of 9/11, along with some skepticism about the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the pace of the city wouldn’t stop, especially for residents of the Bronx.

Gary Gone

Gary Gone joined the crowd that gathered at Ground Zero (photo by Ethan Frogget, Bronx Ink).

Gary Gone, 57, took a train from his home at City Island in the Bronx to Ground Zero Monday morning after he heard the announcement of Bin Laden’s death.

“I’m here for the victims of 9/11 and their families,” he said. He waved his flag and held up the front page of the New York Post on Church Street next to Tara Henwood-Butzbaugh from the Upper East Side, who was holding a picture of her brother John, a trader at the World Trade Center killed on September 11th. Her brother was only 35 and left behind a wife and two children.

Tara Henwood-Butzbaugh went to Ground Zero for her brother, John, who was killed there on 9/11 (photo by Ethan Frogget, Bronx Ink)

“I’d rather have my brother back,” Henwood-Butzbaugh said with tears in her eyes, “But I’m grateful Bin Laden is dead. It’s not going to bring my brother back but I do believe that justice has finally been served. It’s a victory for the world.”

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Gone. “We need to get them all. Wipe them off the face of the Earth. I don’t even think Hell wants them.”

Gone said he was on a bus on Fordham Road when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. He immediately got off the bus and tracked down the nearest television in a store where he watched the events of September 11th with many other Bronxites. He said he wears his patriotic vest and waves flags at Ground Zero on every anniversary.

Tara Henwood-Butzbaugh shows a photo of her brother who died on 9/11. (photo by Ethan Frogget, Bronx ink)

“I’ll be here as long as it takes,” he said.

Bronx Ink Reporter Ethan Frogget contributed to this story.

Leave a Reply