A Naples resident who was a featured speaker at a 9/11 memorial event last week lied about his involvement in recovery efforts at Ground Zero, according to the New York City Fire Department.
According to the FDNY, it’s a case of stolen valor, a person claiming to have been there in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
But Maurice Keshner, who is originally from New York City, stands by his story.
He told a crowd of about 40 people at a Freedom Park ceremony in Naples that he was a “commander” with the FDNY at Ground Zero for two months following the attacks.
Keshner said he was a retired chief of emergency medical services when an FDNY fire chief called him to serve as a chief at Ground Zero.
Keshner said they even sent a helicopter to airlift him to the site on 9/11 and that he oversaw a team involved with recovery efforts.
Frank Dwyer, FDNY spokesman and deputy commissioner of the fire department, called Keshner’s claims “absurd” and said there are no records that show Keshner ever worked for the department.
“No one was asked to ‘come out of retirement.’ Actual retired members, who actually served in the FDNY, did show up to work at the WTC site,” Dwyer said. “Many came to search for their sons, brothers, loved ones and friends who were killed. They showed up, they were not asked.”
Keshner said he spent his career with New York City Emergency Medical Service from 1973 to 1985 before retiring and then being called back into action on 9/11.
The EMS department was not a part of the fire department in the 1970s and 1980s and was still under the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation until 1996 when EMS merged with the FDNY.
The city’s Health and Hospital Corporation did not respond to efforts by the Naples Daily News to verify Keshner’s employment with the EMS department in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Naples event Keshner spoke at was hosted by Fallen Officers, an organization created to support the families and departments of police officers killed in the line of duty across the country.
The event included the reading of the names of the 2,983 people killed in the attacks at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon, aboard Flight 93, and those who died in the Feb. 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing.
Keshner, wearing an all-black suit, spoke calmly and softly as he told the crowd about finding victims in the mezzanine area of the World Trade Center still seated as if they were having coffee or sandwiches. They were not crushed or burned, but killed by fumes in the attack, Keshner said.
He also said he was part of a crew that found the bodies of two flight attendants with their arms tied together by terrorists before they crashed into the World Trade Center.
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Dwyer of the FDNY said both of these anecdotes are false.
“Sadly, there have been cases of stolen valor where people claim to be among the brave men and women of the FDNY who selflessly responded in the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort,” Dwyer said via email. “Three hundred and forty-three FDNY members were killed that day.”
When asked about the FDNY’s statements about his story and his lack of record with the fire department, Keshner still insisted he was telling the truth.
Keshner provided the name of the chief who he said called him out of retirement but originally could not remember the first name of the chief and then gave a different last name.
When asked about the name, Dwyer said that chief had retired but refutes any claims Keshner has made.
Keshner later said he attempted to reach out to the chief but was told by the chief that he did not remember Keshner because he has attempted to block memories of 9/11.
The Naples Daily News could not reach this man for comment and Keshner refused to provide his contact information.
When asked to provide the names of the members of his team he said he worked with at Ground Zero for two months, Keshner said he didn’t remember them.
Mike Randall, vice president of Fallen Officers, said he was shocked to learn that Keshner’s account of his experiences shared at the event was inaccurate.
Keshner was invited to the event by Darren Aquino, who ran unsuccessfully for Florida’s 19th Congressional District in the Republican primary election held last month, Randall said.
Aquino told Fallen Officers he was bringing someone to speak at the event but did not provide a name beforehand, Randall said.
Aquino confirmed he brought Keshner to speak at the event and that they are friends. The event was the first time Aquino heard Keshner share what he said were his experiences from 9/11, Aquino said.
Keshner told Aquino attending and speaking at a 9/11 memorial event for the first time would help him move forward, Aquino said.
James Rallis is a retired captain from FDNY whose employment was verified by the department. He read Keshner’s account and contacted the Naples Daily News questioning its validity.
“For me, 9/11 is about those guys that were lost,” Rallis said. “I hold survivor guilt and a lot of other things in me. When someone fabricates and to such extent that this guy (Keshner) did, it hurts my heart. I lost so many people and it’s just stolen valor is what it is.”