By David Brand
Eighteen years ago, court officers working in the Manhattan courts or in the old Beaver Street training academy heard that two planes had collided with the World Trade Center towers and sprang into action.
More than 20 officers ran into the building to rescue victims of the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Three didn’t make it out.
Capt. William Harry Thompson, Sgt. Mitchel Wallace and Sgt. Thomas Jurgens died on 9/11 and other first responders, including Court Officer Lt. Theodore “Teddy” Leoutsakos, died from injuries and illnesses related to their experience at Ground Zero. Their memory lives on through service and an annual ceremony.
Court officers will gather Wednesday in the ceremonial courtroom of the Queens Criminal Courthouse to honor their heroic colleagues and to remember all who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
The ceremony at Queens Criminal Court is one of several events taking place at courts around the city and state, said Chief Joseph Baccellieri, Jr., the commanding officer/chief of training at the New York State Court Officers Academy.
“A lot of locations put together their own local way of paying homage to everyone we lost on 9/11,” Baccellieri said. “A lot of them are locally done by the people who work at those facilities. There will be moments of silence, small ceremonies.
The state court system’s official ceremony will take place at the Captain William H. Thompson, Sergeant Thomas Jurgens and Sergeant Mitchel Wallace New York State Court Officers Academy in Brooklyn, which opened late last year. The academy is named for the three officers who died in 9/11.
Baccellieri said the academy graduated the largest class of new court officers in state history. The 240 recruits began their training in February and will observe their first 9/11 ceremony in their careers.
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George Silver, the acting administrative judge in Queens Supreme Court, Civil Term, had the idea of moving the ceremony to the Brooklyn academy, Baccellieri said.
“At some point, [Silver] said, ‘Why don’t we have our ceremony at this magnificent facility that was dedicated to them,” Baccellieri said. “We hope to have it here from now on.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Vito C. Caruso, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Edwina Mendelson, Chief of Public Safety Michael Magliano, Silver and Baccellieri will all be in attendance
Baccellieri was one of the first court officers to arrive at the World Trade Center. He and two colleagues entered the North Tower and climbed the stairs, pausing to assist people.
Baccellieri said he and the officers reached the 51st floor of the building when they felt the building shake. The South Tower, where Thompson was working to rescue people, had just collapsed.
Workers at Ground Zero eventually recovered Thompson’s jewelry, including a special anchor pendant, which they delivered to his family.
“Thompson has two sons, each of them had an anchor, so recovering it had extra special meaning,” Baccellieri said.
In 2015, Leoutsakos, a court officer lieutenant, died from pancreatic cancer related to his experience as a Ground Zero first responder.
Later that year, the city renamed the corner of 29th Street and 21st Avenue in Astoria “Theodore Leoutsakos Way” in a special ceremony attended by Leoutsakos’ family and local lawmakers Michael Gianaris and Costa Constantinides.
The street sign is located near the home of Leoutsakos, who served as a court officer for 24 years.
“We are so honored to have the street my family has lived on for 47 years co-named in our father’s honor. Our father was a man who believed in serving his community and country,” Leoutsakos’ daughters Stacey, Cynthia and Stephanie said in a statement. “Today is a celebration of my father and a proud day for our entire family.”