John Bacon and Rebekah Tuchscherer, USA TODAY
Published 11:58 a.m. ET July 3, 2019 | Updated 12:51 p.m. ET July 3, 2019
Luis Alvarez was the 9/11 first responder who appeared before congress alongside comedian Jon Stewart. He has died at age 53.
NEW YORK – A single bagpipe played “Amazing Grace” as police officers and firefighters joined regular New Yorkers gathered to say goodbye Wednesday to Luis Alvarez, a former NYPD detective who made an emotional plea to Congress last month to extend benefits for those who responded to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
A police motorcade cleared the streets for the hearse carrying Alvarez’s casket to the Immaculate Conception Church in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens.
Alvarez, 53, was among thousands of first responders who spent months digging through the rubble for survivors, then bodies. He died Saturday after a years-long battle with cancer he blamed on three months toiling at Ground Zero.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill eulogized Alvarez as a dedicated officer who fought to ensure that the needs of first responders won’t be ignored. He noted that 23 police officers died the day of the attack – and 222 have died since. He implored Congress to reauthorize the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
“No person who responded to 9/11 or who worked to the point of exhaustion during the lengthy rescue and recovery period that followed should ever need to beg our elected officials to act,” O’Neill said. “I will tell you this – We can thank God it was Luis Alvarez who stepped forward to make that demand on behalf of every citizen and resident of our country.”
Among the mourners was Mike Ferraro, 54, who worked with Alvarez in the early 90s. He said first responders showed up in force to pay homage to their fallen brother.
“They paid tribute to him and recognized the hero that he is,” Ferraro said. “They’re out there everyday risking their lives for strangers, for people who can’t help themselves.”
Former “Daily Show” star Jon Stewart and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, were in attendance but kept a low profile. Three weeks ago, a frail and weak Alvarez, with Stewart at his side, chastised Congress for failing to adequately support the compensation fund.
“You all said you would never forget. Well I’m here to make sure that you don’t,” Alvarez testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”
The committee unanimously approved the bill, which awaits votes in the House and Senate. The next day Alvarez faced his 69th round of chemotherapy. A week later he was in hospice care.
Alvarez leaves behind a wife and three children.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio said he will honor Alvarez with a key to the city.
“This city can never repay its debt to Detective Lou Alvarez,” de Blasio said. “It will be my honor to award him with a posthumous Key to the City as a symbol of our profound respect and gratitude for his service and sacrifice.”
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Outside the church, longtime Queens resident Griselle Alvarez-Mueller said she vividly remembers dropping her coffee cup as the news came over TV that terrorists had struck her city. She frantically called her daughter who worked downtown. Within hours, her backyard was covered in dust and debris.
First responders “sacrificed their lives to save a lot of people,” she said. “We lost a lot of people, and we’re still losing them.”
Alvarez’s family announced his death on Facebook, saying the time they had together was a blessing.
“We told him at the end that he had won this battle by the many lives he had touched by sharing his three-year battle,” his family said in a statement announcing his death. “He was at peace with that, surrounded by family.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Va.
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