Ten months after losing their father, husband, colleague or friend, more than 100 people close to Kevin Kelly, a 9/11 first responder, gathered to memorialize him Saturday afternoon in Nassau County, where several spoke of his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after spending 14 days on the Ground Zero pile.
The line-of-duty death of Kelly, a Bellmore-Merrick EMT who took his own life Dec. 11 after battling both PTSD and respiratory illnesses, is a reminder that people who helped others by responding to the terror attacks need all the mental and physical health assistance they can get, his family and friends said.
"He had a lot of suffering. Now he's at peace," Kelly's wife, Mary Rose Kelly, 52, of Lindenhurst said after the service. "PTSD is a silent killer. They don't have enough help for those dealing with that."
Kevin Kelly, who was 55 when he died, was a member of the Bellmore-Merrick EMS department from September 1997 until late 2002 when he retired as captain, said Scott Resnik, chief of department.
A procession of EMS vehicles made their way under a large American flag hoisted above Merrick Avenue to the service held at Sacred Heart Church in North Merrick. There, Mary Rose Kelly, along with her children Kaitlyn and Edward, a Lindenhurst firefighter, were presented with an EMS helmet that read "chief," the rank to which Kevin Kelly was posthumously promoted Saturday.
Resnik was with Kelly the day he rescued a police officer who had fallen during an evacuation alarm at the pile, he said.
"When everyone was listening to the horn and running away, Kevin stayed behind and grabbed this officer to make sure he got out safely," Resnik said.
After the Zadroga Act, which helped 9/11 victims and first responders with their health needs, expired this month, Resnik said it felt like "Congress turned their back on us."
"Kevin's actions were for the nation, not just for New York City or Ground Zero, this was for his nation," Resnik said.
A 9/11 responders forum in Kelly's name, at which people affected by that day's events can speak with others facing similar issues, will begin in the coming weeks, Resnik said.
"Mental health is talked about now with schoolyard shootings, but that shouldn't be the only time we discuss it," Resnik said.
Kelly's brother-in-law Ed McDonald, 48, of Lindenhurst, and his sister-in-law Sue Faber of Valley Stream recalled Kelly a "good guy with a good heart."
"He was always there for his family. He loved his kids," McDonald said. "But he never talked about what happened that day. He was all about laughter before 9/11, then he just got quiet."
Faber pleaded with others suffering from mental health issues to seek professional help. "Don't be a macho man," Faber said. "You have to speak about it."