This story was written by Elaine Van Develde on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Anyone who knows retired Middletown Police Detective Lt. Joseph Capriotti will tell you that those words fall out of his mouth without a thought. You could say that uttering them is first, not even second, nature to the compassionate guy people have come to know as Joe Cap.
That’s why when 9/11 hit ten years ago, then Middletown Police Chief John Pollinger said it was the right thing to do to assign Joe with the task of keeping the list of what turned out to be Middletown’s 37 victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
To Joe, there was nothing heroic about his job. It was just his job.
But it was a job he took to heart. It also broke his heart, under that
calm, collected, soothing demeanor for which he is known.
Without a thought of stopping to collect the pieces, Capriotti was unrelenting in holding peoples’ hearts in his hand as he, over and over again, broke the bad news. It was just what he did.
He was the one who found out first when any hint of someone’s loved one was recovered … or not. Each time, he had to be the one who knocked on a black hole of doors, delivering what was never good news.
He knew all their stories, each holding its own place in his heart. He never forgot. It wore on him. The chief had said he saw it happen in the following years. Still, Joe Cap, always shunning the hero label and dimming the limelight, had become one of Middletown’s heroes.
Ten years later, he’ll tell you that in his many years as a police officer and just plain person, 9/11 was both the worst and best time of his life.
Through many sleepless nights, bouts with depression and lifetime connections made, Joe Cap was honored to be a found anchor for those who had lost someone. His broken heart mends with the memories of what he’s described many times over the years as having privilege of holding the hand of someone searching for answers that often never came about their sudden, meaningless loss.
Still, he grapples with why he couldn’t have done more to help.
To this day, the ache is in his eyes is just as present as the compassion. Rain beating against his face, weathered and worn from remembering, Joe Cap visited Middletown’s World Trade Center Memorial Gardens — a reflective path dotted with the etched-in-stone faces of those whose loved ones he notified.
With clarity and honor, he talked about their stories. He also caught up with one, a widow, with whom he had forged a connection over the years. He will never forget.
Pacing through the rain as he ended his story retold, he headed toward his car, glanced back and said with routine cadence, “See ya later … Need anything?”