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Man’s Murder Overshadowed By 9-11

January 24, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Polish immigrant Henryk Siwiak’s life was taken Sept. 11, but not by terrorism.

Siwiak, 46, died alone on a street corner far from the World Trade Center in what is now a historical footnote: His was the only homicide recorded in the city that day outside of the terrorist attack.

More than four months later, with no one under arrest, Siwiak’s family worries that authorities may not have the time or the will to solve a mystery so overshadowed by history.

``I think the police have many, many cases and maybe they’ll never call me,″ said his sister, Lucyna Siwiak.

Laid out in front of her on a kitchen table in her Queens apartment was a copy of her brother’s death certificate: ``Construction worker ... Body found on sidewalk .... Front of 199 Decatur Street ... Gunshot wound to the chest.″

Police say they have taken the case seriously, but with no witnesses and no clear motive, they know little more about the slaying today.

Siwiak, born in Krakow, came to the United States last year with dreams of building a new life, Lucyna said. Laid off from his railroad inspector job in Poland, he joined his sister in Queens. He worked odd jobs to send money home to his wife, a high school biology teacher, and their two children.

``He had many, many plans in life,″ Lucyna said. ``He wanted to build a new house in Poland. He wanted to send his daughter to a good university.″

Siwiak supplemented English classes by watching television. But he struggled with his new language. That, combined with a cheerful nature, made him vulnerable, his sister said.

``We told him New York could be a dangerous place,″ she said, ``but he didn’t believe it.″

On Sept. 11, Siwiak was looking for work in lower Manhattan when he learned about the attack. He called his family in Poland to say he was safe. It was the last time they heard from him.

Late that night, Siwiak donned a camouflage jacket, borrowed a subway map from his landlord and set out for a job cleaning a supermarket in unfamiliar territory: the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

Police believe he may have gotten off at the wrong subway stop and wandered around lost. What happened next _ and why _ is unclear.

His assailant fired several rounds but hit Siwiak only once. There were no clear signs of a robbery. The victim’s wallet, with cash, was found on his body.

Lucyna speculates her brother was killed because, with his dark hair and Army-style jacket, the killer thought he was an Arab militant.

``I think maybe it was a mistake,″ she said. ``There were many angry people.″

Police dismiss that theory but say they have little to go on.

``The problem was there was no eyewitnesses on that corner,″ said Sgt. Andrew McInnis, a police spokesman.

As Lucyna returned to Poland with her brother’s cremated remains, the murder went largely unnoticed in New York. One major newspaper wrote about it three weeks afterward. So did a Polish newspaper, but only after Lucyna contacted it.

The newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, was concentrating on the deaths of five Poles in the World Trade Center, said Marek Tomaszewski, a reporter. Ordinarily, a story like Siwiak’s murder would be a front-page story, he said.

His grieving sister sees it this way: ``Everybody cares about `WTC.′ This is only one simple death of a very, very simple man.″

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