ELDERTON — A Pittsburgh-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official recalled his experiences after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, while calling to mind law enforcement officers still doing their jobs today amid recent increased hostility toward them and other first responders.
“Like you, I witnessed their bravery as they rushed into the World Trade Center without hesitation or regard for their personal safety,” said Louis Weiers, director of ATF’s Western Pennsylvania Firearms and Violent Crimes Division, at an hour-long Elderton Ministerial Association event Saturday evening honoring first responders from Indiana and Armstrong counties.
“ATF is a relatively small agency when compared to others in the Department of Justice,” Weiers said. “As such we value, we seek out our partnerships with the federal, state, county and local first responders,” including those in Armstrong and Indiana counties, some of whom were among some 40 people in the audience at the Smith Complex, just outside Elderton in Plumcreek Township.
“I still have in my mind’s eye the pictures of those firefighters going up those stairs as everybody else was going down,” Weiers said during an 18-minute speech that capped a time of prayers and patriotic songs in the Smith Complex.
He said 9/11 was the deadliest day in the history of law enforcement, with 344 firefighters, 60 police officers, eight emergency medical technicians and one patrolman out of the approximately 3,000 killed in New York. He also cited the remarks of the Rev. Keith Simmons, who led Saturday’s event, about the first certified fatality at the World Trade Center, a Fire Department of New York chaplain, Father Mychal Judge.
Weiers said it was proof that first responders do not necessarily wear uniforms or badges. His personal role on 9/11 was two-fold. He was one of the first to respond to the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon, then was assigned to the Flight 93 crash investigative team at Shanksville, Somerset County.
Like the other planes in New York and Washington, D.C., that day, it had been hijacked. Unlike the others, the passengers on Flight 93 knew what was going on and fought back.
“As a member of the Flight 93 crash investigative team, I bore witness to the sacrifices that the citizen first responder makes,” Weiers said. “Public relations executive Mark Bingham, computer software salesman Todd Beamer, sales executives Jeremy Glick and Tom Burnett, rushing that cockpit, taking over that plane, saved countless lives. They sacrificed their own so that others could live.”
But much of what Weiers had to say focused on contemporary events.
“193 mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, loved ones, have been killed in the line of duty in this year alone,” he said. “The National Law Enforcement Memorial organization estimates that one officer dies every 54 hours.”
He recapped some of those incidents, and said “the number continues to grow.”
He also acknowledged, “because of the actions of a few, the whole of law enforcement is under scrutiny,” with police considered by some purveyors of violence rather than protectors.
“I reject those assertions,” Weiers said. He recalled incidents where law enforcement put their lives on the line, including the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 48-day manhunt in northeastern Pennsylvania for the killer of state police Corporal Brian Dixon.
The ATF official’s aunt, the Rev. Joyce Dix-Weiers of Resurrection Lutheran Cooperative Ministry, was among the clergy conducting the service.
“This community appreciates its first responders,” said the Rev. Keith Simmons, pastor of the Plumcreek Church of the Brethren. “We honor the commitment that many people have made.”
Simmons and Dix-Weiers also noted that medical personnel are really first responders, though it appeared none were in the audience.
“They’re all busy,” Dix-Weiers said.
“Hopefully not too busy,” Simmons cautioned.