NYPD officer slated to visit local school

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 23, 2002


RESERVE – East St. John High School students helped a hero of the September 11 rescue effort. As a result, they themselves will be rewarded.

Officer Robert Mitchell of the New York City Police Department will visit the campus today to personally thank students and faculty for the care package they sent to him while he was working at “Ground Zero” of the World Trade Towers collapse.

Staying through Friday, Mitchell will speak with several classes and visit one-one-one with students during cafeteria hours and library sessions. In particular, he will spend time with the students of Mark Larose’s social studies class, who sent many of the care package items as well as a Christmas care package that included toys for his children and children of fallen New York police officers and fire fighters.

“I don’t know yet what I’m going to say to the students, except thank you,” said Mitchell, who has also presented the school with the uniform jacket he was wearing that day in appreciation of the students’ support.

Mitchell’s visit is being paid for by the school with student donations helping defray the costs, according to East St. John High School Principal Debbie Schum. She added that several local businesses have donated services and meals during his stay.

Officer Mitchell’s First Precinct substation is located just half a block from the where the towers stood, thus they were the one the first to respond to the tragedy. Working grueling 17 hours days in the aftermath of the tragedy, the care package arrived just as the shock of the events was wearing off for Mitchell.

“I was feeling bad – depressed you might say – as I began to realize the full impact of everything,” said Mitchell. “I still remember the cups and Chapstick and the other things that really told me that people cared. It touched me so much. I just wanted show my gratitude.”

Mitchell’s gratitude poured forth into a four-page, handwritten letter. Principal Schum said his firsthand account of the scene and the feelings they evoked deepened the impact of the events for those so far removed.

“His words gave meaning and a personal name and face to all the images and reports we had seen on television,” said Schum. “He has really helped us all better understand the magnitude of September 11.”

Mitchell’s letter recounted the steel beam smashing through the van he had just parked at the substation; the burn victim he met at the scene and then reading about her death two days later in the paper; and the grief shared by he and his wife, Clare, over a friend killed that day.

“The whole sky was orange, and the sound in the air was loud clapping, debris was flying everywhere,” wrote Mitchell. “On Liberty Street, there was a parking lot with cars on fire. I looked on the floor and saw body parts. Was that a hand I just saw?

“Is this real or a bad dream?”

The reality for Mitchell is that he was one of the fortunate survivors.

“I’m lucky. I get to come home to my family, and now I get to meet these people who have helped me so much,” he said. “But there’s not a day that’s gone by that I don’t think about those who didn’t make it.”

Also scheduled is a St. John the Baptist School Board Meeting to award a special accommodation to Officer Mitchell. The meeting will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. He will be available to meet with the community at large at that time.