New York Daily News

September 18, 2001

Outpouring for Lost Cops

People around the country are offering their support

Daily News Staff Writers

A devoted mother with the face of an angel and the heart of a lion is lost in the rubble of the World Trade Center, and she might be the city's first female NYPD officer killed on duty.

Moira Smith

Authorities confirmed that Moira Smith of the 13th Precinct is among 23 police officers missing since the terrorist attack a week ago today.

Last night, police released pictures of Smith — a transit cop for eight years before joining the NYPD in 1997 — and the other missing officers. None of their colleagues is ready to give up hope.

"We're not writing anybody off," vowed Officer Mario Zorobic of the Emergency Service Unit's Squad 8 in Brooklyn.

Cops are now calling the rubble of the World Trade Center "Ground Hero." The Rev. Robert Romano, a police chaplain, saw it as a more fitting name than Ground Zero for a place where police were buried under debris while trying to save lives.

Smith, 37, the mother of a 2-year-old girl and the wife of a police officer, was among the first cops to report that a plane had smashed into the twin towers. She and her partner raced to help and were last seen evacuating people.

"We haven't given up," said Officer Donna McGroder, 35, a friend for nearly 14 years. "We keep praying that soon we'll see Moira walk out, dust off her clothes and say, 'SOB! I'm filthy.'"

Transit cop Irma Lozada was shot dead by a teen chain-snatcher in 1984, long before the city's police forces merged. Other female cops have been killed since Lozada, but all have been off-duty.

"When you looked at Moira, you knew right off she was Irish," said Officer Paul Adams. "Strawberry blond, blue eyes, fair skin and the gift of gab."

He said Smith loved "being in the community among the people" so much that she recently requested and got a transfer from a narcotics unit.

At an ecumenical service at Police Headquarters yesterday, the families of the missing officers heard words of encouragement and promises of bringing their loved ones home.

Over at the rescue scene, a heap of twisted metal and broken mortar, a handful of cops struggled with the guilt of being safe while the fate of so many colleagues remained uncertain.

"I don't know how we got out of the building," said Officer Mark DeMarco of the ESU's Squad 1. "We don't belong here, but if we came out, there has to still be other people in there."

DeMarco said he and several now-missing officers were leading evacuees to safety when 2 World Trade Center collapsed. He said officers right next to him didn't make it out.

"You hope you can find them whatever the outcome," DeMarco said. "God must have something bigger for me to do. I don't know."

Fourteen of the missing cops, including Sgt. Rodney Gillis, work for the ESU.

Gillis had just finished his midnight tour and was shooting the breeze with colleagues when the alarm sounded last Tuesday morning. Co-workers said he led the charge to the scene.

Transit Police Officers Mark Ellis and Ramon Suarez rushed from the Delancey St. subway station, where they were assigned. Co-workers said they have seen TV news footage of Suarez, a grandfather and the father of four, carrying a woman from the World Trade Center, but neither he nor Ellis, who was engaged to be married, have been heard from since.

"You don't think about your own safety," said Transit Officer Michael Coppola. "[Suarez] was just trying to get people out. I talked to Ray's wife and told her to keep the faith."

John Loud, first vice president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said police officers' spirits have been boosted by the outpouring of affection from people around the country.

"It's a shame it took this act to get people into church and to wave Old Glory, but it's a wonderful feeling to have people appreciate us," Loud said.

Some of that support has come in notes and crayon drawings sent to police headquarters by children. In one note, a 5-year-old girl from Greenwich, Conn., wrote, "Dear hero, thank you for saving the people."

Another note was written by the daughter of missing Officer Brian McDonnell. Little Kate McDonnell drew a heart in red glitter and wrote, "To daddy: I love you."