NEW YORK – An NYPD officer whose death last month from lung disease received wide attention did not rush to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks, as previously reported, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Officer Cesar A. Borja also did not remove debris from the fallen towers and did not work a formal shift there until December 2001, the newspaper said.
Borja worked traffic and security posts on the streets around the site, the newspaper said. There is also no record he worked 16 hours in a shift, the newspaper reported, citing Borja's own memo book.
Media accounts implying that Borja worked long hours breathing toxic dust while not wearing protective gear brought political and media attention to the plight of Sept. 11 first responders and led President Bush to say he was eager to see money directed toward their medical treatment. The same details became the focus of a letter Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote to Bush seeking more federal money for the ailing workers.
The Times traces the misimpression about Borja's role to a story in the Daily News, which has championed ailing first responders editorially and even paid for Borja's son to fly to Washington, D.C., to be a guest of Clinton at Bush's State of the Union address. Ceasar Borja Jr. later met with Bush in Manhattan.
Jennifer Mauer, a spokeswoman for the Daily News, defended the newspaper's coverage of Borja. "We never said he was down there before December 2001," she said in a statement. "We did report that he 'rushed to Ground Zero and started working long days there — even volunteering to work extra shifts.' That is still true."
As for paying for Borja's son to travel to the State of the Union address, Mauer said that the newspaper was "honored to be able to help him get to the historic event."
When asked by the Times why he never corrected seemingly erroneous or unconfirmed public accounts of what his father did, Ceasar Borja Jr. said, "The reason I never tried to correct that impression is I never knew the truth of whether my father was there or not. It was always a mystery for me. I never thought of correcting them because I honestly believed it myself."
His father died Jan. 28, the night of the State of the Union speech, at age 52 while waiting for a lung transplant. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a rare disease that is poorly understood. A city autopsy is being performed to help determine the connection between Borja's death and his work at ground zero.