Ten years ago, a group of Mansfield police officers and firefighters drove to New York in the wake of 9-11.
Their assignment: Help out however possible and deliver donations from the people of Mansfield.
For two of those police officers, that trip was the start of a remarkable, unexpected journey, culminating last week with the wife of a fallen New York City police officer giving the men a humbling gift: one of her husband’s badges.
Cmdr. Kyle Lanier and officer Thad Penkala were among four officers who went to New York.
“We were sent there to work and donate money,” Lanier said.
In a city reeling from an unprecedented assault and still recovering the bodies of victims, the officers mostly helped man security posts around the five boroughs.
They were also ordered by their superiors to donate $10,000 that had been raised from the community in a matter of days.
“They had kids throwing in their lunch money into this jug,” Penkala said.
After a shift one day, the officers found themselves at a police precinct where a shrine had been put up for Sgt. Tim Roy of Massapequa Park, who had a wife and three kids.
Roy, they soon learned, had been on his way to traffic court when he heard about the attack. He was reportedly last seen helping a burn victim from one of the buildings.
The officers from Mansfield donated to the New York City Police Foundation, which assists departments with equipment and other needs. In the memo section of the check, they wrote that the donation was in Roy’s memory.
A decade later, Lanier and Penkala traveled back to Manhattan for the anniversary. They learned that the memorial at ground zero that day was reserved largely for families of victims, so they spent the morning meeting with other police officers and walking around downtown.
After taking some photos of a special memorial for fallen firefighters on the wall of a firehouse, Lanier saw a young boy standing nearby. He was dressed like a New York City police officer, lacking only a gun.
Lanier noticed the name on the badge: “Roy.”
Lanier asked the boy whether his dad’s name was Tim.
The boy said it was.
Lanier couldn’t resist telling him the story of the donation from Mansfield.
A friend of the Roy family standing nearby overheard the conversation and asked Lanier, by then joined by Penkala, to start from the beginning. Pretty soon, Roy’s wife, Stacy, and daughters were there.
Then members of New York’s finest who happened to be nearby stepped closer. Lanier and Penkala were now retelling the story to a small crowd.
As they heard about the donation and why Lanier and Penkala wrote in Tim Roy’s name on the check, relatives and friends cried.
‘You guys are family’
Soon, that friend of the Roy family asked whether they had seen the new memorial. Lanier and Penkala said they hadn’t because they weren’t family to any of the victims.
“Well, you guys are family. Come on,” the friend told them, Lanier said.
The new collection of mourners made the emotional walk to the memorial, all of them connected to Tim Roy — by blood, friendship or the gift made in admiration of Roy’s courage.
They walked along the enormous reflecting pools and the thousands of names displayed around the edges. They stopped and saw where Roy’s name was carved in bronze.
While Lanier and Penkala were taking it all in, Stacy Roy told them she had hoped to come to downtown Manhattan that day and give her husband’s badge to someone special. Lanier was told the badge was one of just a handful.
One had been buried with Tim Roy. Another was on his 13-year-old son’s chest that day.
She handed the badge to Lanier.
“I stood there, and I couldn’t say a word. I didn’t know what to say,” Lanier said.
He and Penkala accepted the gift, profoundly moved and aware that they had forged a lifelong bond with the family.
‘It belongs to everyone’
Back in Mansfield, the two are working to find a way to display the badge and Roy’s story in a place accessible to the public.
“The badge, the way I see it, doesn’t belong to Kyle and myself,” Penkala said.
“It belongs to everyone, especially the kids that threw their lunch money in a jug and didn’t know where the money was going and didn’t care. They just wanted to help.”
Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695