WTC tragedy took away security's finest

Oct 1, 2001 12:00 PM

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Douglas Karpiloff always told people to learn a lesson from a tragedy. That's what his daughter remembers in the wake of his death on Sept. 11, 2001, in the collapse of New York's World Trade Center towers. Karpiloff, the 2000 Access Control & Security Systems Security Director of the Year, is among the missing beneath the remains of the World Trade Center.

Karpiloff, who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in different capacities for nearly 30 years, was last seen in one of the World Trade Center's command centers, underground. He was scrambling to help tenants and workers when the twin towers collapsed within minutes of each other.

As longtime security director of the World Trade Center, Karpiloff was originally on site Sept. 11 to help John O'Neill, his successor, become acclimated to his first days on the job. Karpiloff had moved to a different security position within the New York Port Authority since the World Trade Center was sold earlier this year.

On the day of the tragedy, Karpiloff was running from tower to tower, doing everything he could to help, according to his daughter, Lisa. He is one of the heroes that has risen from the tragedy.

His daughter describes Karpiloff as someone who had a great sense of humor, yet was very professional. “He was very high on morals and ethics,” Lisa Karpiloff says. “He passed that on to his staff and his family.”

Lisa Karpiloff says the family did not plan a big ceremony, per her father's wishes. Douglas Karpiloff is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, 54, daughter Lisa, 25, and son Joseph, 20.

Karpiloff, in charge of security and tenant relations at the time of the 1993 car bombing at one of the WTC towers, was the architect of a multi-million dollar security upgrade at the facility. It was the most intensive security upgrade program ever undertaken at a commercial office building in the United States.

Karpiloff was also a former volunteer Special Deputy with the Westchester County, N.Y., Sheriff's Department and provided free lectures on security to both local and regional law enforcement agencies. For his work following the 1993 bombing, he was presented with the “World Trade Center Individual Award for Exceptional Service” and the “Emergency Lifesaving Support Service Team Award.”

The citation for the second award includes: “…this team of individuals provided emergency lifesaving support services, placing themselves at risk to aid others.”

It was a theme he carried forward until the end. After the 1993 bombing and subsequent $58 million spent on security upgrades, Karpiloff said, “The WTC bombing was a life-changing event for me, and for many others. We had to opportunity to come back stronger, and we've done that.”

Lisa Karpiloff thinks his message following the horrific events of Sept. 11 would be about the same.

“In all of the speeches he gave, he always entitled it ‘lessons learned,’” she says. “He taught lessons from tragedies in Oklahoma City and the 1993 bombing [of the World Trade Center]. He would want people to know what they can learn from the tragedy and improve security. If he could tell every security director in the country those things, he would.”


The Irish blood that ran through John P. O'Neill should be a tell-tale sign.

The passion and tenacity he carried with him to work, certainly, did not go unnoticed.

“He was articulate. He was extremely well-connected. He was serious,” remembers Robert Disney, chairman of the ASIS Intl. Global Terrorism Council where O'Neill was a member and personal friend.

“There are a lot of experts in this industry, but John was one of the few that I would call a giant.”

O'Neill, who gave 31 years to the FBI before retiring in August, was a leader and certainly at the forefront of every investigation, Disney says.

He started out as an FBI support employee and worked his way up to titles such as assistant special agent in charge and section chief in charge of the counterterrorism division. Kevin Giblin, chief of terrorism warning for the counterterrorism division of the FBI, remembers him as an “FBI ambassador.”

“He was persuasive and tough on difficult issues — he had tremendous presence and authority,” Giblin says. “He was a leader, and boy did people follow him!”

O'Neill was looked upon as a knowledgeable expert on anti-terrorism and counterterrorism operations and had been a key part of the investigation of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen last year.

“No one would ever be able to measure the contribution he made to the FBI,” Giblin says. “It was more than cracking a case or understanding a clue — that's tangible. Intangibly, it couldn't be measured.”

It was O'Neill's love and compassion for work and people, not his expertise, that led him to be present at the attack on the World Trade Center last month. As director of security for the World Trade Center, ironically, just weeks after accepting the position, O'Neill became a victim of terrorism — the very thing he worked so hard to thwart.

On Sept. 11, O'Neill is believed to have been in his 34th floor office when the first airplane struck the WTC — but he did not stay there because of his desire to help others trapped inside the buildings.Although O'Neill reportedly had made telephone calls reassuring others of his safety, he is said to have been last seen re-entering Tower 2, putting the welfare of others in front of himself.

On Friday, Sept. 21, O'Neill's body was recovered, identifiable by his University of Maryland class ring. A retirement function in O'Neill's honor, scheduled for this month, will still go on. Approximately 1500 will arrive to say goodbye.


World Trade Center security guard Esmerlin Salcedo was in no peril on the day of the attack since he was attending a computer class at a safe distance away. But when he heard the first strike, he raced from his class to his desk at the command center on the B-1 level. He walked fellow worker Roselyn Braud to an open exit and told her to run for her life. The last time he was seen he was helping another guard to safety. The 36-year-old father of four earned $10.51 an hour. He has an $80,000 life insurance policy but, according to the New York Times, his survivors may not be eligible for survivor's benefits because he wasn't officially “on duty.”

SOURCE: Reported by Margaret Carlson at

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