Anne Arundel, Annapolis police officers remember trips to New York following 9/11

A group of Anne Arundel County police officers pose for a picture in Times Square in fall 2001, when some 90 county and Annapolis police officers traveled to New York to assist local police in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

At Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill in the fall of 2001, Annapolis police officer Brian Antal turned over a piece of concrete roughly the size of a soccer ball. It took all his strength.

"When two buildings that size collapse, it's hard to grasp the magnitude of it," Antal said.


While searching for human remains in the rubble of what had once been New York's World Trade Center, Antal and his fellow officers came across pieces of clothing and jewelry.

"The worst thing I found was a piece of a Teddy bear," he said.


This was before Antal had children.

"I just couldn't imagine ..."

In the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, some 90 Anne Arundel County and Annapolis police officers traveled north to assist in recovery efforts. Nearly 3,000 had died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Among them were some 400 police and firefighters.

In the 13 years since, their deaths have created a bond among first responders that stretches across jurisdiction and state lines.

The trips up north started with the efforts of county police officer Greg Speed and others.

Speed was sitting in Anne Arundel Circuit Court the morning of 9/11, when an assistant state's attorney brought news about the attack. After Speed left court that morning and turned on his police radio, his first assignment was to evacuate the nearby Arundel Center.

In the following days, Speed and others in the department began to offer their help to the New York Police Department.

"The community itself up there was dealing with the aftermath of that tragedy. They were taking any help they could get," Speed said.


A few weeks later, groups of 30 officers were bused north for three days at a time.

Antal was one of the city officers to make the trip.

"If we ever needed help down here, they would have volunteered," he said.

It took a few weeks to organize the trips . With Fort George G. Meade, the National Security Agency and the Naval Academy all in the region, county and city police were already working long hours in the days following the attacks, Speed said.

Antal was on the shooting range at Fort Meade when he heard what had happened.

"Some MPs came on the range and said 'You gotta go,'" he said.


Antal remembered that he and his fellow officers initially thought they had done something wrong. Then the soldiers told them about the attacks.

Lt. Joe Clawson of the county fire marshal's office, along with his canine, Abby, went to the Pentagon on Sept. 11 as part of a regional task force to assist in search and rescue efforts.

Clawson, at the time an 18-year veteran of the county fire department, was off-duty on 9/11. Nevertheless, he began packing his gear as soon as he saw the footage on TV.

"I didn't even wait for the call," Clawson said. "I knew I was going somewhere."

Although about 90 officers went on the trips, it seemed as if 90 percent of the department's officers requested to go, Speed said.

Speed, then 30, had never been to New York.


"When we drove into the city all we saw were American flags — there were American flags everywhere," he said.

Weeks after the attack, there were still lines of people waving signs and flags on the streets near Ground Zero, Speed said.

"I remember a very resilient group of people up there who were set on moving on and making sure that this wasn't going to define their existence," he said.

Antal and Speed remember that the local officers were particularly strained.

"They just looked exhausted," Antal said. "You could tell they hadn't slept."

Speed's unit spent some time assigned to Times Square. With the city starting to return to normal, county officers assisted at some movie premieres, he said.


"A lot of it was just giving a break to the New York officers, even if it meant sitting down to get a cup of coffee or sit down in the precinct and talk to their friends," Speed said.

Officers would work 12- to 14-hour days assisting the local force in policing the city.

Some tasks, like the days spent at the Fresh Kills landfill, where debris from the Twin Towers was taken, were harder than others.

"What our department did was small in retrospect," Speed said, "but maybe it was something that maybe gave a few officers in New York City a breather and some time with their family."