Firefighters' Watch Found in WTC Rubble Returned

Updated: 02-06-2006 09:47:33 AM

AP Online
via NewsEdge Corporation

NEW YORK_Jay Winuk lost his brother Glenn in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. More than four years later, he got back an important keepsake: the victim's wristwatch.

Winuk retrieved the gold Ebel watch Friday at a property room in lower Manhattan, where the New York Police Department is nearing the end of its effort to return personal items recovered from the World Trade Center site to the victims' families.

The reunion of property with people still in mourning can be emotional.

"It's really important," Winuk said. "To be able to connect with something my brother was wearing that day is hard to describe. ... It closes the loop in some way."

Police say they recovered roughly 135,000 personal items from ground zero and Fresh Kills landfill, where investigators sifted through tons of debris from the terrorist attack. So far, 113,400 belongings have been returned to victim's families.

Of the 1,779 pieces of jewelry found - including wedding bands, watches and necklaces - only 430 remain unclaimed. Working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the department expects to return nearly 400 to victim's families.

Last year, the department introduced a new link on the NYPD Web site that encouraged families to fill out an electronic claim developed with the help of Tiffany & Co. It asked for detailed descriptions of the missing jewelry, so it could be cross-checked with items held by the department's property clerk division.

Attempts by an NYPD contractor to develop software that would speed the electronic claims process failed, and the department has withheld a $17,000 payment to the vendor. So the work has continued manually.

Winuk's 40-year-old brother was wearing the watch while working at his office near the Trade Center when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001. A volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Jericho, N.Y., he was helping people evacuate one of the towers when it collapsed.

The brother's remains were recovered - minus the watch - in March 2002. In late 2004, the medical examiner's office contacted Winuk saying they had come across a watch that matched a description he had provided shortly after the attack.

That wasn't the end of it.

The police department told Winuk he would have to produce a receipt or other documentation with the watch's serial number to claim it. Last week, while sifting through his brother's records, he found what he needed - a photocopy of the watch's warranty.

The family, Winuk said, has no idea what his brother paid for the watch. And it doesn't care.

"It wouldn't matter if it was a Mickey Mouse watch," he said. "To us, it's priceless."
<<AP Online -- 02/06/06>>