To Honor One Singular Woman: Moira Smith

Sep 5, 2021 by

This is part of an on-going series, begun September 1st to honor all those who perished on 9/11. Never Forget!

Remember 9/11: The Story Of NYPD Officer Moira Smith

An Interview with Professor Donald Elder

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Dr. Elder as we approach 9/11, I would like to take a few moments to honor one singular person. We obviously cannot tell the story of every single EMT/First Responder, Fireman/Firewoman/Policeman/Policewoman- but we can honor one Policewoman in particular: Moira Smith. 

According to the records, Moira Smith was the only NYPD female police officer to die on 9/11.  Do we know anything of her background?

Moira Smith (nee Reddy) was born on Valentine’s Day, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents had emigrated from Ireland. She had two best friends, Kathleen Conaghan and Cathy Gallogly, and the three played the game of “cops and robbers” frequently while growing up. Conaghan and Gallogly remembered later in their lives that Moira always wanted the three of them to have the role of the police officer in those neighborhood games. While many young people playing cops and robbers dream of someday helping people in distress, Moira actually did save a person while still in her teens.

At the age of 14, Kathleen and Moira attended a summer camp, and one day the two had to participate in a swimming test. As Moira began to swim her required length, the girl directly ahead of her in the pool began to thrash around helplessly, and Moira quickly determined that unless someone helped her, the girl would drown. Even before the lifeguard could take action, Moira swam to the girl, and towed her to safety.

A few years later, Moira graduated from high school, and chose to attend Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. It came as no surprise to her friends that Moira decided to major in Criminal Justice. Moira planned to use that as an entry into the field of law enforcement. While attending Niagara University, Moira received news that her mother had developed a serious illness. She decided that she owed it to her mother to tend to her, so Moira left college and went back to Brooklyn.

After her mother passed away, Moira decided to renew her effort to become a police officer, choosing to enroll in the New York Police Department Academy. There, she learned the legal and procedural aspects of her profession, but also received hands-on training in fields ranging from self-defense to driver education. Moira graduated from the New York Police Department Academy in 1988, and became a member of the New York City Police Department. At first, Moira received an assignment of subway duty—on the face of it, an unexciting line of police work.

All the changed three years later, when a horrific subway crash occurred just after Moira had ended her work shift. In an incredible coincidence, as Moira moved to the scene of devastation, she encountered the subway operator. He had fled the scene, but under questioning from Moira gave her a sketchy outline of what had just happened. With no thought of her own safety, Moira quickly made her way to the crash site, and helped rescue passengers trapped inside the wreckage. Demonstrating extraordinary composure, she recommended that First Responders should set up a triage system for giving aid to the victims.

Finally, after 16 hours of rescue work, Moira allowed medical personnel to treat her for smoke inhalation. In the aftermath of the disaster, the city brought charges against the subway operator, accusing him of drinking on duty and leaving the scene, and Moira’s testimony of her meeting with him helped convict the operator. For her heroism on the day of the crash, Moira received the Distinguished Duty Medal from the NYPD. She then worked narcotics duty until she and her husband decided that they would try to start a family. When she made the decision to become a mother, Moira asked for a transfer to a less dangerous assignment, and in 1996 she became a community-based officer. For that reason, she was on patrol in Lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001.

2) Allegedly she was the first to report a plane flying into one of the towers. Is this true?

While on her beat in the 13th Precinct on the morning of September 11, Moira saw American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower. She immediately used her radio to report this incident. After examining the transcripts of all the calls that NYPD officers made that morning, it was determined that Moira had made the first call about the disaster. Recognizing that the NYPD would create a report on the incident, Moira convinced a number of people around her to accompany her to the closest police office to make statements. From that point on, we have no definitive proof of what Moira actually did, but based on one photograph and testimony given by survivors, most believe that she then went to the South Tower to give assistance. Apparently, she went into a stairway in the South Tower, and began to help guide people fleeing the building.

We do know that she found a man named Edward Nicholls, who had managed to make his way from the 102nd floor of the South Tower down to where Moira was directing the flow of people evacuating the building. Noticing that Nicholls had suffered injuries, Moira guided him out of the building and helped him reach a nearby aid station. A photographer from the New York Daily News took one picture of Moira aiding the victim. Moira then went back into the building, and not long thereafter, the South Tower collapsed. Moira perished in that moment, becoming the only female police officer to have died on 9/11. For her heroic efforts that day, the NYPD awarded her a posthumous Medal of Honor.

3) I understand that her badge has been recovered, and is in the Museum of 9/11. Is this correct?

As soon as possible, work began to clear the wreckage of the Twin Towers. This work had proceeded for six months, when workers found two badges in close proximity to each other under the debris of the South Tower. Upon examination, they saw that the smaller of the two badges had the number 13 stamped on it. This indicated that the officer wearing it worked in the 13th Precinct. The other, slightly larger badge had the officer’s number stamped on it: 10467. A search of the files revealed that the badge belonged to Moira. These badges now are on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City.

4)  She left behind a husband and a daughter. We can only send our sympathies and hope that the city of New York, and its boroughs—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and all surrounding areas will continue to recognize her ultimate sacrifice. Your thoughts?

Moira had married an individual by the name of Jim Smith soon after she became a police officer. Interestingly, she chose to marry a fellow police officer. Had events transpired in a slightly different manner on the morning of September 11, the Smiths’ daughter Patricia might have lost both her parents, instead of just her mother. But Moira could not consider that possibility on the morning of 9/11, nor could any of the other First Responders who gave their lives that day. Rather, they had to put family considerations aside, concentrating solely on the task of saving as many lives as they could. As a mother, Moira represents the principle of “duty to others before to self’ that every First Responder displayed that day. Hopefully, the citizens of New York and the rest of the nation will never forget her gallant actions to “protect and serve,” regardless of the risk that selfless devotion to duty entails.

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