CORAL SPRINGS, FL – For two months, New York City Detective Ruben Torres secured the streets of Lower Manhattan after the fall of the World Trade Center, breathing in what turned out to be deadly dust lingering from the destruction.
Like so many of his colleagues, he got sick with cancer and battled tumors with chemo, drugs, and bravado.
This week, the 66-year-old arrived in Coral Springs to spend his final days with his family -- and found another family of police officers and firefighters waiting for him.
As he rounded the corner to his sister’s house after flying from New York City to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, he saw close to 30 officers, firefighters, and neighbors welcoming him with signs, cheers, and flashing lights from a line of emergency vehicles.
A seat for him was set up in the driveway, next to a table displaying his many awards from the NYPD.
“It was overwhelming. I never expected anything like this,” he said, holding back tears.
The show of support for Torres was set up by his brother-in-law, Mike Higgins, who knew a few officers at Coral Springs Police Department from his work as the athletic director at City of Coral Springs Charter School.
Higgins hoped a couple of officers would show up to welcome Torres when he came from the airport. He didn’t anticipate more than 20 officers and firefighters coming out, some dressed in their uniforms on their day off.
“They were dressed in blue and saluted him. It was so special,” Higgins said.
Torres said no one knew how dangerous the dust in the air was at Ground Zero during the time he patrolled the streets in 2001.
“I was eventually given a mask but I gave it to a guy working the Pile,” he said, referring to the massive clean-up site.
He retired in 2003 after 21 years with the department. By 2009, he was sick, suffering from tumors that were destroying his colon and spreading cancer throughout his body.
“The doctors always said it would come in five to seven years and it did,” he said.
A few months ago, as he became frailer and struggled to walk steady, Torres decided to move in with his sister, Jeannette, and Mike Higgins.
He expects to go into hospice care.
Knowing what was coming, Higgins said he wanted to give his brother-in-law a tribute to his sacrifices after the Sept. 11 tragedy and all his years as a public servant.
“He’s one of a few first responders who is still around,” Higgins said. “He’s always loved being a police officer.”
As he watched strangers saluting him at his sister’s driveway, Torres said he was deeply moved.
“I’m not a crier but it broke me up,” he said. “They saluted me like a super police chief. I never dreamed of anything like that.”
Torres was just as touched by the reactions of his sister’s neighbors who held up signs: “Welcome Home” and “Thank You For Your Service.”
“I was a total stranger to them. It says to me that people do care. They are willing to help. In the end, we all care for each other,” he said.
A day later, Higgins said a neighbor came by and asked: “Is this where the hero lives?”
He responded, proudly: “Absolutely.”
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