On September 11, 2001, after the second plane hit the World Trade Center towers, the Montclair State University Police Department (MSUPD) received a call for assistance from the Port Authority Police Department. Officers Christopher Vidro and Paul Giardino volunteered and promptly traveled to the scene.
On July 25, 2007, Sergeant Christopher Vidro, an 11-year veteran of the MSUPD and 35-year-old father of two, died after battling an aggressive form of cancer resulting from his exposure to toxins on 9/11. Today, Paul Giardino continues to serve the MSUPD as a lieutenant.
This May, Sergeant Vidro’s name will be inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, joining the names of other officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
“Chris left an indelible mark on this agency and it is still hard to imagine that he is not with us,” says MSUPD Chief Paul Cell. “I am extremely proud of him and the officers who helped make this honor possible for him and his family.”
An Intensive Process
MSUPD Captain Kieran Barrett, who joined the department with Vidro in 1998, spearheaded the efforts to include his friend and colleague on the Washington, D.C., memorial. “The process to have a name added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial is respectful, but intensive,” he explains.
As Barrett recalls, on 9/11 Vidro and Giardino – whose patrol car was one of the last vehicles allowed into the city – worked at a staging area that was to receive injured first responders. “Shortly after they arrived, the buildings began to fall and dust clouds enveloped the area. The officers remained on duty until later that evening,” he says.
According to Barrett, it took until 2014, when it was determined Vidro’s exposure to toxins on 9/11 likely contributed to his multiple myeloma, before a case could be made for adding his name to the memorial.
“Chris’s widow, Toni Lyn Vidro, worked tirelessly to provide painstaking details reviewed by commissions for years,” says Barrett, who found the process of poring through documents and medical records overwhelming and emotional.
Both Barrett and Cell acknowledge that they might not have succeeded without the help and dedication of Montclair State student intern Nick Novakowski, who worked for weeks – even on his own time – on the application. “I’m proud that these efforts involved the most integral part of the community we serve – the student finding a way to leadership,” says Cell.
For Novakowski, who hopes to work either for Homeland Security or the FBI after attending graduate school, nothing can top the experience of learning the application had been accepted. “I remember just finishing dinner and getting ready for bed when I got an email notification,” says the history, criminal justice and leadership student. “When I saw who it was from, I dropped everything.”
Ceremonies to Honor a Fallen Hero
Vidro will be honored in May in various ways. Sergeant Eric Heller, who served with the MSUPD prior to Vidro’s hiring, will soon become the Harding, New Jersey, Chief of Police. Heller has elected to ride in honor of Vidro in the annual Police Unity Tour bike ride from New Jersey to D.C.
Both Cell and Barrett will attend the May 13, 2018, formal dedication of Vidro’s name during National Police Week’s 30th Annual Candlelight Vigil. According to Cell, who will attend as the incoming president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, thousands gather for the solemn vigil when the names of the fallen officers are read aloud. “It will be bittersweet this year as we add our own department brother,” he says.
They will also be present at the May 15 National Peace Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony on National Peace Officers Memorial Day designated by President John F. Kennedy, when, together with Vidro family members, they will add a flower to the wreath.
Each of this year’s 360 honored families can have a department escort to assist them during the ceremonies. “I am honored that Chris’s family has selected me to serve in this role,” says Barrett. “Chris was a dear friend to me. While physically he may not be here, his spirit and camaraderie has never left me. This will be one more journey we get to take together.”