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Sept. 11 firefighter's remains are finally identified

July 06, 2013|By Devin Kelly
  • Lights symbolizing the twin towers of the World Trade Center light up the sky over Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Almost 12 years after the attacks, the remains of firefighter Jeffrey Walz have been identified.
Lights symbolizing the twin towers of the World Trade Center light up the… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

He was a firefighter responding to a call about overcrowding at a Halloween party in New York City.

She was there, dressed as a Dalmatian, the firehouse mascot.

“I didn’t really believe he was from the Fire Department,” Rani Walz said, chuckling at the memory. She and Jeffrey Walz were married two years later.

But just before his sixth wedding anniversary, a call for help came and the 37-year-old lieutenant and his colleagues with Ladder 9 in the East Village raced to the World Trade Center. It was Sept. 11, 2001.

While Walz was still inside the north tower, the building collapsed. He went missing for nearly 12 years. On Friday, the firefighter’s remains were identified by the New York medical examiner.

While the remains of 1,637 people killed in the attacks have been identified, more than 1,100 have not. Officials have credited advances in DNA testing technology with allowing them to successfully identify remains recovered more than a decade ago.

For Rani Walz, the news came as a surprise. “I didn’t think I’d ever get that phone call,” she said Saturday in a phone interview.

Her husband stood 6-foot-1, a “gentle giant” with a big heart. An electrical engineer by degree, the Staten Island native split his time between the NYFD and the U.S. naval base in Lakehurst, N.J., where he worked as an engineer.

His father was a firefighter, Rani Walz said, and Jeffrey liked the flexibility of the job, which gave him time to spend with his son.

Like many Americans, Rani Walz remembers the day of the terrorist attacks vividly. She and her husband awoke at similar times at their home in Westchester County. Their son Bradley, 3 at the time, was sleeping on the floor of their room that morning. Before Jeffrey left, he kissed Bradley on the forehead. He kissed his wife, too, and said, “I love you.”

It was the last time they would speak. She took a train that morning to the New York law firm where she worked as an accountant. By then, the first plane had struck. She dropped her belongings and went into an office conference room where co-workers were gathered around the television.

With the noise from the TV, she missed a phone call from her husband. In the message he left her, he said he wouldn’t be able to speak to her for a long time. He said, again, that he loved her, and their son.

The recent news of his remains reopened old wounds, she said, but it also opened up a path for healing.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” she said. “All these emotions, but at the same time, the family feels like he’s home.”

Now 50, Rani Walz has not remarried. But perhaps now, she said, she can finally move on.

Families decide whether to release the name of their loved one upon identification, she said. Jeffrey Walz’s family chose to release it.

It was a way for the family, she said, to give hope to others still waiting.

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

Twitter: @devkelly17

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