Oyster Bay, NY – New York Police Detective Joseph “Joe” Paolillo died in the line of duty on Sept. 9, following a battle with cancer that developed after his service at the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001.
The 55-year-old detective died nearly 18 years to the day from the time he began searching through the rubble at Ground Zero, the New York Daily News reported.
His brother, New York Fire Department Battalion Chief John Paolillo, was among those he was searching for.
Chief Paolillo, who was based at a firehouse in East Harlem, was on the either the 53rd or 54th floor of the North Tower when it collapsed.
“When Joe found out his brother was missing, they put him on family leave,” Det. Paolillo’s wife, Josephine, told the New York Daily News. “He went back anyway. He dug on that mound for a month hoping to find his brother.”
Chief Paolillo’s body was found on Oct. 8. His funeral took place two days later, the same day Josephine went into labor with her and Det. Paolillo’s second son.
The little boy was named John, in honor of his uncle, Chief Paolillo.
Det. Paolillo was diagnosed with a rare form of urethral cancer in January, the New York Daily News reported.
Doctors said it was caused by the toxins he was exposed to at Ground Zero in the wake of the attacks.
Friend and fellow New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer Jim Blandeburgo said that the veteran detective went through months of chemotherapy that left him “beat to s–t,” but that it did nothing to stop the cancer from spreading, the New York Daily News reported.
In July, he underwent surgery to remove his prostate, bladder, and urethra, but the cancer continued to spread in the days and weeks that followed.
“This hit Joe and it went through him like wildfire,” Officer Blandeburgo told the New York Daily News. “It was a systematic shutdown of the body. In a way it was good he went fast, but as fast as it was, his wife, that poor woman, watched that guy suffer.”
Det. Paolillo’s cousin, Diana Huff, said that the detective wouldn’t have changed anything he did in the wake of the attacks.
“Would Joe have stopped trying to find his brother if he had known that he was going to get cancer?” Huff asked. “No. There was no stopping him.”
In addition to his wife, Det. Paolillo leaves behind three sons, Raymond, John, and Martin, according to his obituary.
He is also survived by his sister, Sheila.
Det. Paolillo was laid to rest on Saturday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of New York Police Detective Joseph “Joe” Paolillo, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.