Oyster Bay resident Michael P. Shea, a veteran Nassau County police lieutenant who had also served with the NYPD, was among the thousands of first responders who helped others at the World Trade Center after the nation’s worst terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s just what dedicated public servants like Shea did when his community and nation were under threat. But last month, doctors and Shea’s wife said, he paid the dearest price for his patriotism and selflessness.
On April 1, the Levittown native and decorated officer with 30 years of experience died at home of brain cancer that he contracted during his service at Ground Zero. He was 52.
“He was assigned to work there and he was doing his job,” said Shea’s wife, Ingrid, adding that her husband was at Ground Zero about four days. “He was being a responsible person.”
Shea is among tens of thousands of people who contracted illnesses stemming from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. He is one of at least 6,000 who developed cancer as a result of 9/11 alone, according to John Feal, executive director of the Feal Good Foundation, which advocates for first responders and others who took ill because of their service on the pile.
Shea is scheduled to be honored by the Nassau County Police Department during a Memorial Day ceremony at police headquarters in Mineola on May 23.
“Michael Shea fought the devil hard,” Feal said, referring to the cancer that took Shea’s life 16 years after he worked at Ground Zero. “He was an articulate man, very smart. He was highly intelligent with a sense of humor, which made him a well-rounded man. My heart hurts every time I think of his passing.”
Shea was born in Levittown and graduated from General Douglas Macarthur High School in 1982. Three years later, he was a rookie in the New York Police Department, following his father’s footstep by pursuing a career in law enforcement.
He served in the highway division until 1990 when he joined Nassau’s force, where he rose through the ranks, becoming a sergeant in 2006 and lieutenant in 2015, his wife said. He retired that year as his illness took hold.
Along the way, he met his future wife on a blind date in 1993. The couple married in 1997.
Shea received a degree in criminal justice from Empire State College in 2005 and commendations for outstanding work fighting crime, including being named Cop of the Month in December 2002.
Last year, he participated in a PBS documentary about the World Trade Center attacks.
Ingrid Shea said her husband loved to travel. He took part in whitewater rafting in Colorado and Alaska, walked over the Sydney Bridge in Australia and took a helicopter in Alaska. He experimented with different types of food when traveling.
His wife said he was handy at home, enjoyed fixing and tinkering with things. Active and fit, Shea loved to exercise and had a penchant for running, having completed the Long Island Canon Half-Marathon several times from 1997 to 2002.
“He was a friendly person, a team player and had a good sense of humor,” Ingrid Shea said. “He always liked to help others. Even after his terminal diagnosis he always found a way to laugh at things.”
Funeral services were held in early April.
Besides his wife, Shea is survived by a brother, William Shea of Queensbury; and two sisters, Christine Fisher of Queens and Virginia Murphy of Westbury.
Donations in his honor may be sent to the Michael P. Shea Scholarship Fund, c/o NCPD – SOA, 777 Old Country Rd., Suite 201, Plainview, N.Y. 11803.