Full of Grace – Remembering John P. O’Neill, who died on Sept. 11, 2001

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oneill-webJohn P. O’Neill was born in Atlantic City and his funeral Mass was celebrated there, in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, where he was once an altar server.

The boy who wore a cassock and sneakers on the altar grew up to be a man who died trying to save others on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 49.

O’Neill was the head of security for the World Trade Center, a position he took only days before terrorists flew two jetliners into the twin towers.

He is believed to have been in his office on the 34th floor of the north tower when the first plane struck.

According to reports, he talked with the Fire Department about setting up a command center in Tower One, and was last seen going in the general direction of Tower Two minutes before it collapsed.

Before taking his position at the World Trade Center, O’Neill had been an FBI agent. An anti-terrorism expert, he spent several years heading major investigations of Osama bin Laden. He also investigated the bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

According to the New York Times, in 1997, when he was head of the agency’s counterterrorism division in New York, he warned at a conference on terrorism that militant terrorist groups were operating quietly within the United States.

At his funeral Mass his son, John P. O’Neill, Jr., read a letter his father wrote for his newborn grandchild, encouraging him to always remember his religion, his family and his country. “You have been born in the greatest country in the world, the United States,” he wrote.

In his homily at the funeral Mass, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio praised O’Neill as a man who “gave his life to protect other innocent lives.”

O’Neill was a graduate of Holy Spirit High School, Absecon.