The city medical examiner's office said Friday it had identified remains recovered from ground zero as those of an FDNY lieutenant, a monumental development for the still-grieving family of the Staten Island native.
The office identified the victim of the Sept. 11 attacks as Jeffrey Walz, who worked with Ladder 9 in the East Village, and was promoted to lieutenant after his death at age 37.
"For my family, for my parents, for my brother, for his wife and his son, I take it as a sign that he's OK," said Karen Ciaccio, Walz's sister.
"'I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm here with you.' That's how I look at it," she added.
"We're just very relieved, in some respects, to be finally bringing him home to where he grew up and to put him to rest there," his brother, Raymond Walz, told the Associated Press by phone. "That's some peace."
"We kind of knew this day would come. I guess when it does come, though, it kind of sucks the wind out of your sails," he said. "You have to absorb something new, and old feelings resurface."
After growing up on Staten Island, Jeffrey Walz got an electrical engineering degree and worked at the Navy's air engineering station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
But he'd been enthralled as a child by his father's stories about working as a firefighter, his brother said, and he decided to follow his father's example.
Walz joined the FDNY in 1992, though the naval station persuaded him to keep working there on some of his days off, former deputy public works officer Charlie Mink told the Asbury Park Press in 2006, when a road at the base was named in Walz's honor.
Walz was assigned to Ladder Co. 9 in downtown Manhattan, where he was dispatched one day when someone called the fire department about a crowded Halloween party. One of the guests got in touch with him afterward and ultimately became his wife, Rani. They settled in suburban Tuckahoe and had a son, Bradley, now 15.
"There was nothing ostentatious about him. He just was a good, clean-living person," a quiet guy who let his smile speak for him, his mother, Jennie Walz, said by phone.
Ciaccio said the family has thought about the Walz's death every day -- that's more than 4,000 days since he was killed in the trade center's north tower.
"We didn't have a chance to say goodbye, we didn't see him one last time, so there's no such thing as closure, I think, in this circumstance," she said.
The medical examiner's office said that Walz' remains were collected before May 2002 but retested and identified only recently.
Walz's name is etched among the nearly 3,000 victims at the September 11 Memorial. His family chose to talk about the medical examiner's positive ID Friday as a way to remind everyone that more than 1,000 families still haven't recovered even the tiniest remnant of their loved ones.
"I know we're not alone," said Ciaccio. "I know that, and we all have to stick together, because a lot of us are going through this. We're not alone."
The medical examiner's office has been retesting human remains recovered during the original recovery at ground zero, collected before May 2002. It has identified a total of 1,637 victims from the attack.
Recently authorities have been sifting through truckloads of debris unearthed by construction crews working on the rebuilding. Possible remains of more than 20 victims have been recovered since that process began in April.
Some 2,750 people died at the trade center in the Sept. 11 attacks.