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‘Humbled and honored’: Staten Island family is one of many receiving Tunnel to Towers mortgage payoff

American flags (Tunnel to Towers/Facebook)

Nicole Rutherford didn’t see her then-fiance, the late NYPD Transit Police Officer Brian Rutherford, for three months following the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He spent all of his free time sifting through debris at Ground Zero.

Assigned to the District 30 Transit Bureau in Downtown Brooklyn, he’d often sleep at work, creating an easier trek to Manhattan so he could spend more time sifting through toxic rubble in the hopes of finding any sign of life, then any sign of victims’ remains, she recalled.

“They were on those crazy tours,” Rutherford remembered, though her husband usually spared her the painful details of what he witnessed while at the site.

When he was just shy of his 25-year anniversary with the Transit Police, Brian Rutherford, 47, lost his battle with 9/11-related bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) on Sept. 20, 2022, leaving behind his wife and three sons, James, Matthew and Michael.

Today, his family can relax knowing that the mortgage on their Pleasant Plains home has been paid in full by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, along with 21 others, in recognition of the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Staten Island-based foundation announced on Thursday.

The not-for-profit foundation, founded by Frank Siller of Westerleigh and his family, is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice of his brother, Staten Island firefighter Stephen Siller, who lost his life on 9/11 after running through the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (then known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel) to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

To date, it has provided more than 1,000 mortgage-free homes to surviving families and specially adapted smart homes to those very special veteran heroes.

The news of being selected has Rutherford “humbled and honored,” she said.

“It just means that I don’t have to worry,” she said. “With three kids and having to worry about how you’re going to to pay for your home, it’s scary. I said, ‘Here I am. They lost their dad and now I might have to take them from their home, because I can’t afford to live here and still provide to them the life that they’re used to’.”

The mortgage payoff will allow her to be a proper mom to her three boys, she said, noting she’s now responsible for “the dad stuff too.”‘

“There really are no words,” she said. “It’s a weight lifted off my shoulders that I can’t describe to you.”

Her boys, she said, were always proud of their father, and her youngest, who closely resembles his father, plans to be a police officer when he grows up.

“They were proud of the fact that their dad was a cop,” she said. “They admired that he was a police officer.”

Her husband, she said, was passionate about his career, and it was good to him, too.

“He liked being part of the NYPD; he loved it,” she said. “He made amazing friends and had an amazing NYPD family.”

Known for his sarcastic sense of humor, the late officer loved sports, especially his New York Mets, but rooted for all New York teams, his wife recalled. He played on NYPD softball teams through the years, and would often practice with the NYPD hockey team.

When Nicole Rutherford found out late last year she’d been selected by Tunnel to Towers to receive the mortgage, she cried and was thankful, she recalled.

“I thanked God for people like them that are truly there for people who dedicate their lives to helping other people,” she said. “There are not many people in this world that go to bat for first responders and military.”


(c) 2023 Staten Island Advance

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