Just weeks after testifying alongside Jon Stewart at a Congressional hearing to implore full funding of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez passed away on Saturday at age 53. He was laid to rest at a funeral in Queens on Wednesday that drew hundreds of police officers to pay their respects.
"He spoke for those who passed already, those who are sick, those who might get sick,” Detective Miguel Mendez, who also spent months at Ground Zero, told the NY Times yesterday outside Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria. “Lou was our warrior."
Alvarez died from complications arising from colorectal cancer, likely caused by the toxic dust inhaled at Ground Zero, where Alvarez toiled for three months in the rubble following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The retired bomb squad detective was not diagnosed with cancer until 2016, but his doctors believe the air at Ground Zero was the likely cause.
"I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero when I was there," Alvarez told congressional representatives at the emotional hearing in June. "Now the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us, and we are all worried about our children, our spouses and our families and what happens if we are not here."
Born in Havana, Cuba, Alvarez immigrated to Astoria with his family as a child. After turning 18, he joined the Marines, and then the NYPD, where he rose to the rank of Narcotics Detective in 1995. But according to police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, after nine years undercover Alvarez wanted a less stressful assignment.
"Without a hint of irony — and I still can’t believe this — he joined the N.Y.P.D.’s elite bomb squad,” O’Neill said at Alvarez's funeral yesterday. “Talk about an exceptional human being."
Alvarez retired after 20 years, in 2010, and O'Neill said, "If his story had ended there, it would have been enough for several lifetimes."
Alvarez is survived by his parents, his wife, three sons and three siblings. Stewart, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Pete King, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who wore a firefighter’s jacket in support of emergency responders, were among those in attendance at yesterday's funeral.
Fmr. Detective Luis Alvarez, 9/11 first responder, & loving father of 3 sons, left us far too soon.
He spent his last days fighting for the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund.
Some issues should be above partisanship or delay. We must pass the bill as soon as Congress reconvenes. https://t.co/efpKkHYGFW
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 3, 2019
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has seen a significant rise in claims in the past two years as more people who worked at Ground Zero are diagnosed with cancer and other ailments. CNN reports that there were "over 24,000 claims in 2017, 2018 and January 2019. That's more claims than in the first five years of the fund combined—when only 19,000 claims were filed."
After Alvarez's appearance on Capitol Hill, the House subcommittee passed the bill extending the compensation fund, which would have run out of money this year, through 2090. It is expected to pass the full House when Congress reconvenes, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has promised to allow a vote on the Senate's version of the bill in August.
Stewart and McConnell have publicly clashed since the June hearing, with McConnell telling Fox News he didn't understand why Stewart was so "bent out of shape" and Stewart appearing on The Late Show to to declare, "I'm fine! I'm bent out of shape for them—these are the first heroes, and veterans and victims of the great trillions of dollars war on terror. And they're currently still suffering and dying... you'd think that'd be enough to get Congress's attention... but it's not."