restaurants in the retail concourse beneath 5 World Trade Center
were looted in the wake of last week's disaster, and police
detectives are investigating whether rescue workers were
responsible, law enforcement officials said yesterday.
The looting, which a New York National Guard infantry unit
discovered, appears to have begun soon after the fires in the upper
stories of the building were extinguished last week, and continued
in a less aggressive fashion through Tuesday night or early
Wednesday morning of this week, said Capt. Vincent J. Heintz,
commander of Company C, First Battalion, 105th Light Infantry.
A warren of wide subterranean passageways in 5 World Trade
Center, on the northeast corner of the plaza, somehow survived the
collapses of the twin towers and the searing fires that raged in
that building overhead throughout the day of Sept. 11. One level
below ground, many retail stores and restaurants, as well as the
subway stop there, are intact. Even the water damage was
Together the passageways and shops form an eerie Pompeii, a
hushed and lightless world of ash, shards of glass and crumpled
ceilings, interspersed with scenes of a New York City morning frozen
in time. Several officers and soldiers who entered the basement said
the thieves who swept through had acted as if they were raiding a
The looters picked through a Tourneau boutique watch store,
raided cases of designer sunglasses in another shop, tried to pry
open at least one cash register and penetrated the service room
behind a row of Chase automated teller machines, where steel safes
appear to have dissuaded them from making off with stacks of cash.
Early this week the Guard reported the crimes to the police and
Robert M. Morgenthau, the district attorney. Police investigators
and union officials toured the concourse Wednesday night, and Daniel
Castleman, chief of the district attorney's investigations division,
said he spoke with police officials to express concern about
security at the site.
On Sept. 13, two men — including a former city correction officer
who was posing as a police officer — were arrested and charged with
stealing two watches at the Tourneau shop, Mr. Castleman said.
He said yesterday that the looting in the past week appeared
limited to a few shops under one building.
"It's not a situation of everyone walking in and stuffing their
pockets," he said. "It could be one guy who was very determined, and
got his hands on some merchandise. At this point we don't have
evidence of who it was, when it was, or precisely what was taken,
and the Police Department, understandably, has taken an interest in
Deputy Commissioner Thomas Antenen, a police spokesman, said the
department was reviewing the facts of the case. "We arrested two
looters last week, and have received these reports of other missing
property," he said. "We are looking into it."
Guard officials have exercised painstaking care not to blame any
particular group of rescuers, saying the thieves could have come
from any number of agencies working under the rubble.
"They could have been police officers, they could have been
firefighters, they could have been contractors or National
Guardsmen," said Captain Heintz, who is also a rackets prosecutor in
Mr. Morgenthau's office.
Guard officials noted that it was virtually impossible for
civilians to reach the underground area, which is at the center of
rings of security, immersed in darkness and cluttered at many points
with hanging or leaning rubble.
They said they had little doubt that the thefts were conducted by
people familiar with the ground and equipped to carry out the crimes
with speed and confidence. "It was calculated," said Second Lt.
Peter Fluker, Company C's second platoon leader. "It was done with
crowbars and heavy equipment and some sharp, blunt objects that were
used to smash open big doors and jewelry cases. They were rescue
workers of some sort."
In addition to the retail establishments that were clearly
looted, other shops and newsstands were partly destroyed by
localized collapses, and it was not clear yesterday if the scattered
merchandise and open cash boxes inside indicated more looting or
simple disarray. "In some places, you just can't tell," said First
Sgt. John Brett, who spent several shifts on security duty in the
dark basement, waiting in ambush with night vision equipment, hoping
to catch returning thieves.
The scenes surrounding him were unthinkably bizarre.
At the northeast corner of 5 World Trade Center are the remains
of a Borders bookstore with many of its windows blown out. Above it
sits the blackened and twisted frame of the buildings, through which
water drips on the stocked cases of best-sellers, including stacks
of new releases. Only a few bookcases are knocked over. All are
coated with dust.
An idled escalator leads down to the darkened basement, which has
become an unsettling tableau of New York City at the moment that the
destruction began. A walk through the Borders basement, past the
travel section and a customer service counter, leads out to the main
concourse, where untold numbers of commuters and shoppers mingled at
the moment the first jetliner slammed into the complex.
The concourse is a world that stopped.
Inside Sunglass Hut International, an employee's breakfast —
three link sausages and a moldy entree with a fork standing upright
— rests on the counter beside the cash register. The newsstands
still hold stacks of the papers from the morning of the attack. At
the entrance to the Warner Brothers store, the plastic statues of
cartoon characters — Bugs Bunny, the Tasmanian Devil — stand
wide-eyed in the blackness, their faces leering as the beam of a
flashlight swings by, their heads and backs coated with soot.
At the Chase A.T.M. booth, a customer's receipt — for a $100
withdrawal made at 8:51 a.m. on Sept. 11 — was protruding from the
receipt slot. Captain Heintz removed it, blew off the glass
fragments and dust, and placed it gingerly on the counter with a
faint tap of his hand. "This is from one of the last poor people who
was down here," he said.