9/11 hero Luis Alvarez remembered at funeral
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 09, 2019 | 8981 views | 0 0 comments | 450 450 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the funeral of Detective Luis Alvarez. Pool photo courtesy of NYPD.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the funeral of Detective Luis Alvarez. Pool photo courtesy of NYPD.
The streets of Astoria were filled with mourners last Wednesday as the NYPD, family members and friends honored the life of former detective and 9/11 first responder Luis Alvarez.

Alvarez, 53, died on June 29 from cancer likely linked to his time rescuing victims at Ground Zero after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The Astoria native spent his last years advocating for federal lawmakers to reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Last month, he joined Jon Stewart to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. In an emotional plea, Alvarez, who later that day underwent his 69th round of chemotherapy, urged Congress to replenish the fund.

“I should not be here today but you made me come,” he said at the June 11th hearing.. “You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”

“This fund is not a lottery ticket to paradise,” he added. “It is there to provide for our families when we can’t, nothing more.”

According to reports, the bill is expected to pass the House. It will be voted on next month in the Senate.

In a message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before he passed away, Alvarez wrote that he wanted his legacy to be helping to pass the bill.

“Please look deep into your conscience and realize it’s the right thing to do,” he wrote. “If you pass it, I will die a happy man.”

At Alvarez’s funeral, which was held at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, Reverend John Harrington, who delivered the homily, said everything Alvarez said in his testimony was “for the benefit of other people.”

“He saw himself as one of many others,” he said.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Alvarez and his family moved to the United States in 1965, Harrington said. He grew up in Astoria, attending mass at Immaculate Conception and attending its school.

According to Harrington, people noticed a change in Alvarez after he had graduated from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst and joined the Marines.

In 1990, he joined the NYPD, and was first assigned to the 108th Precinct. Two years later, Alvarez was transferred to the narcotics division and was promoted to the rank of detective.

“He found himself,” Harrington said. “He found his mission.”

Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who also spoke at the funeral, joked that after serving in the narcotics division, Alvarez wanted to do something less stressful, so he joined the bomb squad.

“Talk about an exceptional human being,” he said.

The police commissioner noted that 222 police officers, including Alvarez, have now died from 9/11-related illnesses. He urged Congress to replenish the Victims Compensation Fund.

“The time for action is long overdue,” he said.

Aida Lugo, Alvarez’s sister, said her late brother’s commitment persisted even after he was diagnosed with cancer.

In his final days, she recalled, Alvarez was “agitated” and tried to get out of bed. He told her and the nurses that he had been “walking” and looking for first responders to make sure they got the help they needed.

“Before he was an American hero, he was my hero,” said David Alvarez, his son, “the one I wanted to make proud.”

In a statement, Councilman Costa Constantinides said Alvarez embodied the NYPD creed of “Serve and Protect.”

“His untimely passing at age 53 is a stark reminder of the health burdens carried by those heroes,” he said, “and why we must make sure they are forever cared for after all they did for us in those trying days.”

In an unrelated event, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would be honored to give the key of the city to his family.

“Detective Luis Alvarez showed us courage of the highest order,” he said. “He went to Washington and spoke a truth he should not have had to speak.”

“We have lost him after extraordinary service to this city and extraordinary service to his brothers and sisters who gave so much,” de Blasio added. “But his voice will carry on.”
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