Mystery surrounds slaying in Arizona
By Verena Dobnik THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK— Firefighter Salvatore Princiotta worked around the clock at the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks: Family members say he helped put out fires, led injured people out of the area, and spent a week digging through the smoking rubble for his uncle, a deputy fire chief.
He eventually got sick with lung problems, retired from the fire department and recently moved to Arizona, hoping the abundance of sun and fresh air would be just what his ailing body needed.
But on May 14 — five years to the day after the remains of his uncle, Chief Raymond Downey, were found at Ground Zero — Princiotta was found dead in his Arizona apartment. Police said there were bullet wounds in his decomposing body.
On Friday, the suspect in the slaying committed suicide after police cornered him in California, authorities said.
Police are saying little about the suspect and nothing about why he may have killed Princiotta, only adding to the mystery surrounding the former firefighter’s final days.
But one thing is for sure — Princiotta is one of hundreds of first responders who got sick after Sept. 11 and blame their health woes on the toxic fumes and dust at ground zero.
In January, Princiotta moved from his Manhattan apartment to Arizona because he was having trouble breathing. After several hospitalizations, he had retired from the FDNY four years ago.
“He was brokenhearted,” said his brother, Joseph Princiotta of Deer Park, a Long Island community where family members have lived in six houses along Oak Street for decades.
“You could say Sal was a victim of 9-11,” the brother said. “He would never have moved to Arizona if 9-11 hadn’t happened.”
Thousands of miles from the haunting memories, in Scottsdale, Ariz., the ex-firefighter, 43, hoped for a new life in a near-perfect, sunny climate. He was getting disability pay (three-quarters of his firefighter salary) supplemented by income from day-trading stocks.
Photography was his pastime and passion, and he planned to use his new home as a base to keep traveling the world. His photos — posted on his Web site — are from Turkey, the Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico, Greece. In the clear Arizona air, he could ride his new bike.
Three months after the terror attacks, the image of Princiotta atop a road bike was seen across the country when he and five other New York firefighters cycled 3,000 miles from New York to California — to say thank you to fellow Americans, especially firefighters and police from other states, for coming to New York’s rescue in its hour of need.
Princiotta and his group of FDNY firefighters raised $29,000 for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows’ & Children’s Fund. His firehouse — Ladder Co. 9, Engine Co. 33 in lower Manhattan — had lost 10 of its men Sept. 11.
Princiotta, a muscled, tattoed man friends called “Sally Boy,” would donate gifts to orphaned children each Christmas, but didn’t want anyone to know, said Gus Thomas, a friend in New York.
During his almost 15 years with the FDNY, Princiotta received two citations for bravery; in one instance, he walked into a burning house to pull out a trapped firefighter.
An online guestbook with comments from friends, relatives and strangers includes an entry from the firefighter Princiotta saved, Hank Porcaro, now retired in Las Vegas.
“Sal saved my life at the very moment I was dying. Out of air, lost, and tied up in fallen cables, I knew I was breathing out my last breath,” he writes, adding that the flames were blowing over his head and he was losing consciousness.
“Then I heard my miracle. A big strong voice telling me ‘I got you, brother’ sounded to me like an angel. I felt his strong arms pull my tied up body and I knew I would be OK.”
Just outside Princiotta’s old firehouse, a makeshift memorial still sits on a windowsill by the sidewalk — a wooden box with a glass lid that holds photos of him, both in uniform and in casual attire, always in the company of his firefighter buddies.
In New York, he remains a hero, a friend, a beloved son, brother, uncle and decorated former firefighter. He was also “a consummate bachelor, outgoing and gregarious,” his brother said with a chuckle.
In Arizona, the New York hero has become a victim in a murder mystery.
The suspect killed himself Friday night at a motel in San Bernardino, Calif., said Sgt. Mark Clark, a Scottsdale police spokesman.
When approached by police, the suspect fled on foot. After a short chase, he pulled out a gun and committed suicide. The name of the 56-year-old man was being withheld until relatives could be notified, Clark said.
The question now is: What was the motive for Princiotta’s slaying?
His nephew, also named Salvatore Princiotta, discovered his uncle’s body on May 14, Joseph Princiotta said. Family members had been trying to reach Princiotta for about a week, after not hearing from him for awhile. A niece got no reply to cell phone text messages and e-mails.
Finally, the nephew, a student at a nearby college, went to check on his uncle, using his own key to enter the condominium in his gated, low-crime community.
It appeared Princiotta had been dead for days, police said. There was no evidence of a break-in.
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05-29-2007, 04:41 PM #1
- Join Date
- Oct 2006
9-11 Hero Likely Killed over Elvis Stamp and Coin Collection
05-29-2007, 04:41 PM #2
- Join Date
- Oct 2006
The Arizona Republic
May. 26, 2007 06:26 PM
Police say there is no clear motive to the murder of a former 9/11 firefighter who was found dead in his north Scottsdale home but have confirmed a coin collection is missing from the victim's condo.
Salvatore Princiotta, 43, was discovered dead earlier this month after his body had been decomposing for several days.
The man suspected of killing Princiotta was tracked to San Bernardino, CA, where the suspect committed suicide after a police chase Friday night, said Scottsdale Police Sgt. Mark Clark .
Officials are withholding the identity of the 56-year-old suspect until family members are notified of his death.
Police believe the suspect and Princiotta met shortly after the firefighter retired to Arizona from New York, Clark said.
Investigators said the two were acquaintances, but can't confirm any other relationships, Clark said.
Princiotta, who is believed to have developed lung problems from working at ground zero, moved from his Manhattan apartment to Arizona in January because he was having trouble breathing.
Princiotta's nephew, who is also named Salvatore Princiotta, found his uncle's body on May 14, according to family. Family members had been concerned because they were unable to contact Princiotta for about a week.
05-29-2007, 04:43 PM #3
- Join Date
- Oct 2006
Fox News had an update on this earlier. Evidently the suspect may have sold him the safe that he kept his coin collection in.
Sad story. I remember when he and those 4 other guys biked from NY to CA to raise money.
05-29-2007, 09:55 PM #4
- Join Date
- May 2002
- Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!
Very sad and tragic. I, too, remember the awesome stories about the bike tour.
My deepest sympathies to FDNY, the Princiotta family and his Ladder Co. 9 and Engine Co. 33 brothers.
Surely 343 angels were there to carry you gently in their welcoming arms. Sleep peacefully, Sal
05-29-2007, 10:21 PM #5
I had the pleasure of meeting Sal twice. Once on his bike tour - several of our apparatus met them at the city limits and led/followed them into fire station 13 where they stayed the night.
The second time, Sal and several of his comrades came to Memphis to go through Graceland and visit the fire museum to get away from NYC for a couple of days.
He was a class act, the informal leader, and obviously highly respecyed among his peers.
A very sad situation. I hate he had to go under the circumtances. Somewhere I have a picture of him at the Fire Museum. I will put it up when I find it.Robert Kramer
Management is making sure things are done right. Leadership is doing the right thing. The fire service needs alot more leaders and a lot less managers.
"Everyone goes home" is the mantra for the pussification of the modern, American fire service.
Comments made are my own. They do not represent the official position or opinion of the Fire Department or the City for which I am employed. In fact, they are normally exactly the opposite.
05-30-2007, 02:03 AM #6
Very sad. Talk about weird carma huh?
R.I.P. brother!Jason Knecht
Altoona Fire Dept.
IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine
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