There was little Henryk Siwiak wouldn’t do to provide for his family.
When the work in his native Poland dried up, the married father of two in October 2000 packed up his life and left his loved ones for opportunities he believed would be waiting for him in New York City.
But as was and is the plight of many who come to the United States in search of a better life, Henryk, 46, couldn’t afford to go a day without working. He toiled day and night for nearly 11 months, stopping at nothing to earn the much-needed money he sent back to wife and children.
He braved the labyrinth that is the city’s transit system to travel from Queens, where he was renting an apartment near his sister’s home, to wherever there was the promise of money.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, that meant a construction site in Manhattan. But his plans to — and those of every person in New York and much of the world at large — were forever changed when at 8:46 a.m., a Boeing 767 jet carrying 11 crewmembers and 76 passengers was flown by five terrorists into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Another jet, this one with a crew of nine and 51 passengers, taken over by another team of five hijackers would fly into the second half of what was known as the Twin Towers at 9:03 a.m. Within the next hour, two more planes would crash — one into the Pentagon, another into a field in Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, which were extensively covered by the media, and for which justice was meted when their mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was killed.
But before the day would be through, another person would lose their life within the city’s borders: Henryk Siwiak. His killing, though not nearly as wide-reaching as those that occurred hours earlier, was for his loved ones just as tragic. It was also the city's only murder recorded for that day, as the deaths in the attack do not count toward the city's crime statistics.
And 18 years later, it remains unsolved.
As he did every day since he arrived in America, Henryk had planned to work Sept. 11. He arrived downtown at the job site on which he had most recently labored in time to witness the attacks and as the sky filled with smoke, was sent home.
He traveled back home to Queens, where he called his wife, Ewa, to let her know he was safe.
“I told him, just in case, don’t leave tonight, because it can be dangerous in New York,” Ewa told WNYC in 2011.
That wasn’t an option for Henryk, who set out to find any work available. He walked to a Polish employment agency in Brooklyn, where he was able to secure a position cleaning a Pathmark supermarket that night for about $10 an hour.
With several hours until he was expected to arrive for the midnight shift at the store, Henryk and his landlady reportedly studied a map to trace the route he would take. The store was located on the 1500 block of Albany Avenue in Brooklyn, but the pair unwittingly set their sights on the wrong spot.
“That’s what’s so sad about this,” then-Lt. Tom Joyce of the NYPD’s 79th Precinct told Long Island Press’ True Crime Report in 2002.
“That he was so far off.”
Henryk is believed to have gotten off the train near 1 Albany Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, arriving at the start of the avenue, nearly 4 miles from where Henryk was supposed to go.
He then turned right, again going the wrong way in the wrong neighborhood.
“In 2001, this area was very violent,” Detective George Harvey told InsideEdition.com. Harvey was a police officer in the precinct when Henryk was killed and now is the lead investigator in the case.
Sitting atop the avenue, that stretch of road was as dangerous as it was insular.
“They were a tight-knit block,” Harvey said. “They don’t really like the outsiders coming through the block, or coming on the block.”
What exactly happened next remains unclear, but what is known is that at some point, Henryk encountered who would become his killer.
“Unknown individuals wound up shooting at him that night, hitting him numerous times, causing him to die,” Harvey said.
Wounded, Henryk managed to cross Decatur Street and run up a stoop to ring the doorbell or knock on the door of a brownstone building in a last-ditch effort to make it to safety. His pleas fell on deaf ears.
“Nobody answered the door,” Harvey said. “He then stumbled down the stairs and fell on the sidewalk, where he ultimately died.”
The NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit typically aids in investigating homicides and sexual assault cases. Theirs is the unit that provides lighting to help find clues such as fingerprints and footprints. But there was nothing typical about the night that Henryk was killed.
“Earlier that day was the terrorist attacks of the Twin Towers,” Harvey said. “So that’s what was taking place amongst the city.”
The 79th Precinct dedicated as many resources as possible to immediately investigate Henryk’s death.
An evidence collection team, which normally responds to burglaries and other nonfatal crimes, scoured the scene, and investigators searched for witnesses.
They quickly hit a brick wall.
“It was kind of something that was pushed aside,” Harvey said. “We really didn't receive a lot of help from the public in regards to this case.”
Henryk was an outsider and it seemed, to authorities, his death meant little to those who called the houses on Albany Avenue and Decatur Street home.
"Back in 2001 there was no iPhones, there was no video cameras," Harvey said. "There was a few, but not like there is today in the neighborhood. Every building around here pretty much has a camera on it. It makes it easier to solve some of the crimes. But back then, 2001, we just relied on the public to come forward and give us information."
But no one appeared eager to help investigators in their search for Henryk's killer.
“Everybody heard the shots, but nobody saw anything,” Harvey said.
The nearly two decades that have passed since that night have provided no further clarity on what led to Henryk’s death.
His loved ones have long taken stock in the theory that his outfit and appearance contributed to his killing.
Henryk wore camouflage pants, black army boots and a dark-colored jacket the night he died. He had purchased the clothes at the Salvation Army, but the outfit, coupled with his dark complexion and foreign tongue, may have given the community still grappling with the day’s events cause for concern, some have theorized.
Others have speculated that Henryk was the victim of a botched robbery. When he died, Henryk still had nearly $75 in his pockets.
But the motive in Henryk’s death remains elusive.
“Anyone that gets arrested in this area, the detective squad debriefs them in regards to information in regards to this case,” Harvey said. “So far, nothing has turned up.”
It’s possible Henryk died knowing as little about why he was targeted as those tasked with finding his killer, as the father of two had not learned much English at the time he was fatally shot.
“He probably didn't even understand what was being said, if anything was being said, or he couldn't communicate himself to the people on the block,” Harvey said.
When Henryk boarded a plane bound for the U.S., he left behind a full and complete life in Poland. He and Ewa had been married 20 years, the New York Times reported. His daughter Gabriela was 18 and his son Adam was 11.
“We’d like to ultimately give the family some kind of closure in regards to the case, and find out who did this,” Harvey said.
New York City marks the anniversary of Sept. 11 by remembering those lost and honoring their lives. The Police Precincts and Fire Departments take on the added task of mourning their fellow brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice that day. The 79th Precinct is no different, but it also has an additional task it completes every Sept. 11.
“Around the anniversary, we also hang up the reward posters hoping to generate new information in regards to the case,” Harvey said. “We believe somebody saw something, it's just a matter of finding that person.
“I believe Albany Avenue is a pretty tight-knit block, so I believe that probably, the person responsible is probably still in the area.”
The NYPD is offering a reward of $10,000 and Crime Stoppers will pay an additional $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder of Henryk Siwiak. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS. Callers should refer to the Crime Stoppers Poster Number BK-1375 when calling.
All calls will be kept confidential.