Richard T. "Richie" Muldowney died Sept. 11, 2001, trying to save lives with fellow firefighters from New York City's Ladder 7.
His wife received a 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor from the White House, while his brother and mother received two similar pins. They could rub them between their fingers when they wanted to remember Richie, whose body disappeared in a heap of twisted metal and ash.
But the pins vanished March 6 when a thief pried open Anne Muldowney's sliding glass door and made off with valuables.
Exactly eight years after losing his older brother, Brian Muldowney says emotions are still raw when he thinks of him, feelings that don't need the additional weight of knowing his family no longer has his pins.
Today, they do.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, saw news stories about the theft and forwarded them to the Justice Department, which had issued the pins and medals to the Muldowneys and the families of 441 other Sept. 11 firefighters, police officers and rescuers four years ago.
A White House official who had organized the Medal of Valor ceremony called Brian Muldowney. She told him the pins and medals were handmade and unique. It would usually take at least six months to replicate the set, but the White House planned to expedite the work.
"We didn't let my mother know," said Muldowney, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue driver-engineer, "because we didn't want to get her hopes up because we didn't know how long it would take."
Her disappointment had doubled after two suspects the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office arrested in connection with the burglary - Carlos Pierce, 19, and Alicia J. Sanders, 20 - wouldn't disclose the location of the pins, a sheriff's spokesman has said.
A month ago, an overnight package arrived for Brian Muldowney, who gathered his family for dinner. His sister put on steaks, and just before the family ate, they surprised Anne Muldowney with a jewelry box.
She opened the box and paused for about five seconds before she cried, hugged and laughed.
She asked whether they were the originals. Brian Muldowney told her they weren't.
It didn't seem to matter. Later today, Anne Muldowney will arrive in New York, where she will show the replacements to her son's widow as they mourn something truly irreplaceable.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.
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Sept. 11 remembered
- Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, will be on hand for the Sept, 11 Memorial Ceremony at 9:45 a.m. today at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, 601 St. Pete Times Forum Drive, Tampa. It will also mark the dedication of Heroes Plaza at the park, with Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio honoring the military, police and firefighters.
- The 9/11 Freedom Walk in Safety Harbor, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. Honors those lost in the attacks and includes a tribute to area firefighters, sheriff's deputies and military personnel. Donations of comfort items for active-duty soldiers are appreciated at 6 p.m. today at Veterans Park, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane (next to marina), Safety Harbor. Free.