New York Daily News

March 21, 2002

Moira Recovered As the Skies Wept

Daily News Police Bureau Chief

t was a little before 5 a.m. when the phone rang at the home of NYPD Lt. Charlie Barbuti with the news about Moira Smith.

Barbuti, the hero cop's former supervisor at the 13th Precinct, considered Smith more a close friend than an underling.

"They found Moira," said the voice at the other end.

Moira Smith  

By then, the 13-year NYPD veteran — the only female city police officer killed in the line of duty Sept. 11 — had been gingerly wrapped in an American flag before an honor guard carried her out.

"We finally found her, we brought her out of there," Barbuti said yesterday. "No civilized army in the world ever left its dead on the battlefield. The good Lord found it in his heart that we could find her and put some closure to this."

Recovery workers had spotted the glint of Smith's collar brass, a tiny "13" signifying her precinct, in the rubble at Ground Zero shortly before 4 a.m.

Using hand rakes, two Port Authority cops sifting through the debris in the collapsed lobby of the south tower dug a little deeper and came across a dented badge with dust caked between its numbers: 10467.

Smith helps Edward Nicholls from the WTC minutes before the towers collapsed.

An honor guard — Barbuti, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch, Manhattan South trustee John Flynn, her husband's uncle Buster Smith and a group of fellow 13th Precinct cops — was soon there to bring her home.

The group trudged silently through the morning's harsh wind and pelting predawn rain, carrying her remains out of the collapsed towers, past recovery workers with bowed heads, and placed her on the back of the Emergency Service Unit's Truck 1.

A caravan of patrol cars with flashing lights and wailing sirens followed the truck as it made its way out of Ground Zero, up the FDR Drive and finally past the 13th Precinct stationhouse on E. 21st St., where 40 of Smith's fellow officers stepped outside and saluted the fallen cop for the last time.

It was a ritual the NYPD has performed for 12 of its 23 officers recovered at Ground Zero since Sept. 11.

Smith's husband, Jim, a cop assigned to the Police Academy, was in Florida with the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Patricia, when his wife was found.

Friends said he left his Queens home to avoid St. Patrick's Day because it was one of the couple's favorite holidays. He and his little girl flew back to New York last night.

"He needed to get away," said one friend. "It's still very hard."

She Saved Dozens

Kelly said Smith was miles from the burning towers on the morning of the attack but rushed to the scene, gathered victims and witnesses, and brought them back to the 13th Precinct stationhouse.

Then she and a group of cops — including her partner, Robert Fazio — returned to the carnage.

A Daily News photograph showed Smith leading a bloodied man to safety, one of dozens of lives she is believed to have saved before she and her partner were killed in the collapse of Tower 2.

"She was a pretty remarkable person," Kelly said, adding that yesterday was a solemn morning for him. "This is not an easy process for anyone."