LAS CRUCES – Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 was a beautiful day, much like Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, said Las Cruces Police Chief Patrick Gallagher.
Gallagher, a native New Yorker, was a captain with the New York Police Department, on the day that changed the nation forever. He shared his harrowing story Tuesday morning, on the 17th anniversary of 9/11, during a Patriot Day ceremony at Horseshoe Park at New Mexico State University.
He recalled the morning two commercial airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers.
“My initial thought like many others was that it was just an accident. Then we saw the size of the hole and we got a little bit more suspicious. When the second plane hit. We knew it wasn’t an accident,” Gallagher said. “We were under attack. It was a great feeling of uncertainty and fear and a lot of us experienced anger as well.”
Gallagher was the captain of NYPD’s internal affairs unit and his role on 9/11 was to identify people going to a hospital in Harlem, a large neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan.
“A lady came to the hospital, she walked all the way from the World Trade Center. She had burns and was the only person we saw that day. The next day was rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.”
Gallagher said it was hard for him to talk about his experience on 9/11 after it happened, but said he came to terms with it a few years later.
Now, Gallagher said he speaks of the event to honor all those who lost their lives and are still suffering.
“I’m often asked on what I’ve experienced on that day. I avoid going into detail because quite frankly, those are memories I don’t want to relive,” Gallagher said. “The horrors of that day are not why we’re here to remember, and that’s not what we should be remembering. While we’ll never forget that sudden and provoked attack on our country and our way of life — what we should pause and remember is not just the lives lost, but the heroism displayed.”
Gallagher said he’ll never forget the acts of bravery on that day.
“The sheer commitment and duty demonstrated by the thousands of law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs who responded to the attacks without hesitation, while faced with unimaginable and unknown dangers,” he said. “That’s a memory I’ll live with forever.”
Gallagher said he wears a World Trade Center pin to remind him to never take anything for granted.
“Many people are still suffering the effects of 9/11,” he said. “I lost two friends. Both of my friends were great guys and police officers with recovery operations. Both suffered and died as a result.”
After 23 years serving for NYPD, Gallagher found his way to New Mexico in 2009 and became police chief in Truth or Consequences and Santa Fe before taking over in Las Cruces at the start of 2018.
Gallagher said he’s been impressed with the quality of first responders in New Mexico, especially Las Cruces.
“It is deep within the American spirit to help others in time of need. The police department in Las Cruces has among the finest willing to do so,” he said. “In my relative short tenure as police chief here, I’ve seen first-hand the devoted professionals who do so much for so many. I want to recognize the LCPD’s courage for what they do on a daily basis, sometimes without notice.”
Gallagher has been back to visit New York City, but said he has no intentions to see Ground Zero again. However, he said he was happy there was a memorial and museum to remind new generations of what happened 17 years ago.
“I’m glad we’re doing this ceremony because I believe the new students we have currently were born after it happened, so it’s important to remind them what happened Sept. 11, 2001,” Gallagher said.
During the ceremony, the LCPD and the Las Cruces Fire Department were joined by the NMSU Police Department, the NMSU Fire Department, NMSU’s Department of Military Science, NMSU’s Department of Aerospace Studies and NMSU’s Military and Veterans Programs.
Jacqueline Devine can be reached at 575-541-5476, JDevine@lcsun-news.com or @JackieIsDevine on Twitter.
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