Unsung Bomb Squad Heroes: Volunteered to Die to Disarm Rumored Nuke in New York

Mar 2, 2007 11:34am

According to a new book by ABC News reporters: In October 2001, the fires were still burning at Ground Zero when New York City was faced with the threat of a nuclear bomb planted inside the city, a threat so dire that no city official, including the mayor, was informed of it by the secret team assigned to prevent the device from going off. Some details of the still-classified incident have crept out over time, but until now it never has been reported that a handful of senior New York City Police Department bomb technicians, including at least one grandfather, had volunteered to disarm the device. They did so knowing they would likely die trying because even if the bomb did not go off, radiation poisoning could kill them. Click here to go to the Web site for "Bomb Squad." "We figured someone might say no," now-retired Inspector Charlie Wells told ABC News reporter Richard Esposito, according to "Bomb Squad: A Year Inside the Nation’s Most Exclusive Police Unit," a new book by Esposito and ABC News Nightline producer Ted Gerstein.  "I mean, you couldn’t really order a guy," Wells added. But no one took a step back. Bomb Squad Lieutenant Jerry Sheehan, Detective First Grade Kevin Barry, Detective First Grade Joe Putkowski and Detective First Grade Dennis Mulchahy all volunteered, according to the book’s authors. None will speak of the incident. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. At the time they volunteered, the CIA had a source with what appeared to be firsthand information that al Qaeda had procured or had made a nuclear device, and that device either was already in place or on its way to New York or the Capitol.

The incident was one of two nuclear scares the nation faced that month. The first was quickly made public and discounted as a rumor. This second threat — to New York and Washington, D.C. — was kept so secret that in New York City only one police inspector and one police lieutenant were informed by federal officials of the details of the plot, according to the officials involved in the plan to disarm the device.

"The bottom line was 99.9 percent of the federal team wasn’t going to make it here," Wells recalled. "At best, that team would be several hours away, and hey, if they had to choose  between Washington and New York…" His voice trailed off. For more on "Bomb Squad," click here to read an excerpt.

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