FBI technician who worked in the Pentagon after 9/11 succumbs to illness he contracted in the aftermath of the terrorist attack
William 'Homer' Lewis breathed his last on April 3 due to complications he suffered as a direct result of his work in the aftermath of 9/11.
May 2 marks the eighth death anniversary of one of the most controversial and feared men in the world: Osama bin Laden. As the founder and spiritual leader of pan-Islamic militant organization al-Qaeda, bin Laden orchestrated the September 11, 2001, attacks on four locations in the US that, to this day, remain the deadliest terror attacks in human history.
The hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic debris containing more than 2,500 contaminants, including carcinogens, is estimated to have contributed to fatal or debilitating illnesses amongst at least 18,000 people who were at Ground Zero at the time of the attack or even the weeks following it. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. But the impact of the attack wasn't restricted to that day alone.
Amongst those who succumbed due to their service during what was America's darkest moments include FBI agents, with the organization confirming this past month that they had, for the first time, lost a professional staff employee due to 9/11 related causes.
William 'Homer' Lewis, an electronic technician for the FBI, breathed his last on April 3 due to complications he suffered as a direct result of his work in the Pentagon, whose west side had collapsed due to American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into it. He was 51-years-old and leaves behind a daughter and his long-time love.
Having earned two associate degrees in Applied Sciences, Lewis started his career in the FBI in 1990 as an operating engineer in the Training division. He served in the organization for 28 years and was described by anyone who worked with him as someone they could always depend on, and it's this dedication to his work that would ultimately cost him his life.
An employee in the FBI's Finance and Facilities Division, post 9/11, Lewis tirelessly worked the night shift at the Pentagon for weeks, setting up and maintaining radio communications. He was instrumental in the organization's recovery efforts, keeping team members safe inside the Pentagon and at surrounding evidence review locations.
His friendliness and willingness to help was a common theme during his memorial service as well. David Bowdich, the Deputy Director of the FBI, admitted he did not have the honor of knowing Lewis personally but that anyone he spoke to about the technician had nothing but good to say about him.
"Homer had a willingness to drop everything and help you—anytime, anywhere," he said. "He was always checking in on others, always ready to be there for someone in need," adding, "That kind of optimism, that selflessness, that positive energy—it’s infectious. It makes everyone feel better and brighter. It makes you believe that, one way or another, everything is going to be okay."
Speaking about his contribution to the organization, Bowdich said, "In the FBI, we talk about dedication. Humility. And a drive for service. Homer embodied each of those qualities. He knew how important his work was. He was dedicated to the FBI family. He was dedicated to the FBI mission—he was dedicated to keeping people safe."
"He had that drive for service that is the hallmark of the FBI," he continued. "He took care of the people he worked with—his FBI family—bringing his trademark optimism to everyone he encountered. And he always, always remembered who he was doing the work for—the American people."
But unfortunately, Lewis is not the only one the FBI has lost to 9/11. According to the official website, the agency has lost at least 16 agents and professionals to illnesses they incurred through work at or near recovery and screening sites in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, Shanksville, and Pennsylvania.
There were at least three deaths last year alone of FBI special agents whose illnesses were directly related to their work at 9/11 sites, and more than 40 FBI employees are currently being treated for 9/11-related illnesses.
And the bad news doesn't end there. Some estimates put the number of FBI responders to 9/11 sites at 4,000, but only a fraction of those have registered for the federal government's financially struggling World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
The WTCHP, which authorizes coverage through 2090, provides ongoing screening, monitoring, and treatment for certified conditions, and the VCF provides compensation to individuals—or their families if deceased—for certain injuries or conditions or deaths related to the 9/11 attacks.
However, in February this year, it was announced that future payouts would be significantly reduced (by up to 70 percent) because of dwindling funds. More than $5.1 billion has already been awarded to more than 21,000 claimants as of March 31, 2019, with thousands more claims still pending review.
The FBI has urged its 9/11 responders to register for the funds, whether they are currently sick or not, before the deadline for the same closes once and for all on December 18, 2020. The lack of funds is concerning, but there is some hope, with efforts ongoing at Capitol Hill to extend and fully fund the VCF, which insiders said would require an additional $8 billion to provide appropriate compensation for all current and future claimants.