Luis A. Palermo Jr., a decorated Nassau County police officer who rushed to lower Manhattan to help search-and-rescue efforts at the ruins of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks, died Monday from a 9/11-related illness, authorities said. He was 49.
Acting Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Palermo was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago. The cause of death was acute lung disease.
“He was the kind of guy who never asked for accolades. He just did what he had to do,” said Eric Cintron, Palermo’s brother-in-law. “He went down there [Ground Zero] without hesitation.”
Palermo’s life and career were celebrated at a funeral Saturday at Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, Queens. Burial was at Northport Rural Cemetery.
Palermo, a 23-year Nassau police veteran who lived in Suffolk County, was stationed for many years in the department’s Third Precinct in Carle Place. Ryder said Palermo loved serving that community so much that he turned down at least one transfer.
Cintron said Palermo was a deeply religious man whose life was focused on family and faith. Despite his illness, he remained devoted to his church and children.
“Luis would sit in the backyard, hooked up to his oxygen tank, with the family,” Cintron said. “Luis was not a victim. He was a tough dude. He kept a smile on his face and he had his faith in the Lord. That is what sustained him.”
Thousands of police officers and other first responders are suffering from cancer and a host of other ailments as a result of breathing in toxic air in the weeks and months after the Twin Towers collapsed.
Ryder said the department filed for compensation for Palermo under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides funds to monitor and treat first responders — and assist their families posthumously. “He has not been designated yet, but he will be. He fits all the requirements for the Zadroga bill,” Ryder said.
“We’re just days away from the 16th anniversary of 9/11 and we are still burying people who were down there,” he added.
Ryder said the department honored Palermo shortly before his death by promoting him to the elite Bureau of Special Operations.
Palermo is survived by his wife, Deborah, and their three children: Celine, 18; Caitlyn, 15; and Caleb, 9.