SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – He lives in Syracuse now, but Joe Colon is spending the weekend at home in New York City to be there for the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In an interview with NewsChannel 9 before his trip, Joe Colon said, “When you survive something like 9/11, you really start thinking about why you’re on the planet and why did God save me. and you start thinking ‘what’s next?’.”
Before moving to Syracuse and becoming managing chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Colon spent 20 years working for the New York Police Department.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, he saw the burning tower through the window of his chief’s office.
By September 12, he was given a months-long assignment to use his social work experience to assess the emotional status of rescuers looking for victims and digging through rubble.
“Some of what happened to me at Ground Zero is a blank screen,” said Colon. “Mental health people say ‘that’s your brain protecting you from what you saw and do you really want to open that box? do you want to go there?’ Honestly, I don’t. My brain is kind of fuzzying it up.”
Some memories are still vividly clear, like when Colon had to help an officer who had an argument with her husband that morning, only to find out he wasn’t coming home.
“She was overwhelmed,” he remembers, “to the point where I had to assess if she needed to go the hospital. That’s what happened. We went to the emergency room. Those are the conversations you don’t forget.”
Colon also won’t forget losing his first partner on patrol, John D’Alara, who died while responding to the World Trade Center.
Colon calls Ground Zero “hell”, referencing the burning debris, melting metal and disorienting dust, which requires him to get annual physicals that, so far, have shown a clear bill of health.
He retired not long after his work at Ground Zero was over, in 2002. He got a masters in social work from Fordham and went to the seminary in Rochester.
Joined by 20 other alums of the 9/11 peer support group, Colon is back in New York City for the weekend. They’re not sure if they’ll be mentally prepared to go back to Ground Zero for the first time.