Seattle police officer remembers firefighter uncle who died saving others on 9/11

At Seattle Center’s memorial garden, police, fire, and Seattle’s mayor gathered Saturday to honor the lives lost 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

Among those who were part of the ceremony was a Seattle police officer whose uncle died in New York City trying to save the lives of others.

“We suffered a cataclysmic event in this country,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Anyone old enough to remember knows where they were when the attacks that changed the world struck.

“I was actually on vacation in Canada. Immediately that night, I came home - I needed to be with my fellow officers,” said Police Chief Adrian Diaz.

“I was home getting ready for work, and my wife tells me to turn on the TV,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.

Seattle police officer Michael Virgilio was abroad in Paris at the time. When the terror attack struck, Virgilio was in 11th grade and his dad worked for the U.S. Embassy.

His uncle, Lawrence Virgilio, was a firefighter in New York City, Michael Virgilio’s hometown. He says they found out about the attack while about to start soccer practice. He said in Paris, they canceled practice, put all the kids on buses and sent them home.

“My uncle went on the missing firefighter’s list two days after. Then it was about a week and a half, almost two weeks after, when they actually recovered his body,” Virgilio said.

His uncle, known to him as “Uncle Larry,” was 38 years old.

He was one of 343 New York City firefighters who died at ground zero trying to save the lives of others. Many of the firefighters who died ran inside the burning building, working their way up 110 flights of stairs, trying to pull people out.

“It really started to hit when we flew back from the funeral because from the airplane, you could still see the steam and smoke rising. Two weeks later, it still looked like it just happened,” Virgilio said.

Now he holds Uncle Larry close to his heart.

“I’ve been wearing his tie, everything, since,” Virgilio said. “We got ahold of his uniform, and it happened to be the same style tie we wear for our under guard uniform.”

He says his uncle also helped inspire many in his family to join a life of service.

He, a brother, and his sister all joined the Marines. Aunts and uncles are police officers and firefighters. Both he and a brother of his were combat veterans who got wounded in Iraq.

“It’s kind of a family business at this point,” Virgilio said.

He says what he remembers most from Sept. 11, 2001, is not the horror from that day but the unity that followed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s unfortunate it takes a tragedy to get there. I think if we can find that unity again without a tragedy, it would be amazing,” Virgilio said.

Virgilio threw out the first pitch at the Mariner’s game on Sept. 11 in honor of his uncle.

He also asks people to honor both the lives lost on that catastrophic day and in the days immediately afterward and remember the military members who died serving their country in the years following the attack.

“I lost a lot of friends in the wake of all this. So that’s extremely important,” Virgilio said.