A man died because he loved people.
He believed the lives of others were sacred. So he did something he knew was dangerous, because he thought it could save people, or at least help their families.
David LeValley was an FBI agent, based in New York, on Sept. 11, 2001. After the first plane hit, he raced to the World Trade Center. After the buildings crashed down and so many died, he kept coming back to the scene as part of the “bucket brigade” who combed through the seemingly bottomless mounds of crushed concrete and mangled steel for survivors or the remains of victims. He helped for two weeks, though he knew the work could be perilous.
Like others who toiled alongside him, LeValley eventually became sick from breathing in smoke, dust and other contaminants. The exposure gave him leukemia, the FBI said. When he died on May 26, 2018, LeValley, 53, had been the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office for a year and a half.
On Friday, the FBI held a ceremony to name the office after him.
His widow’s eyes glistened, red and wet, as she stood with dozens of friends and colleagues crammed into the lobby of the building off Chamblee-Tucker Road. Denise LeValley had known for months the ceremony was coming. Still, she was surprised they’d name the place for her husband after he’d only been in town from his previous post for less than two years.
He’d be surprised, too, she thought.
“Just, thank you so much,” she said to the crowd.
Paul M. Abbate, the FBI’s associate deputy director, gave a brief speech about LeValley, who he’d worked with in New York and Washington. He called LeValley a quiet leader, a humble man, an adept agent, a person you could count on. Abbate rarely drifted more than a sentence before returning to a theme, something important about his late friend, perhaps the most important thing.
“He truly cared about people,” Abbate said.
This is why LeValley’s name fits on the list of the more than a dozen FBI special agents who’ve died in the past few years from 9/11-related illnesses.
LeValley was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He kept it to himself mostly, because he preferred to focus on others, their problems as well as their accomplishments. FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke at his funeral last year at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek.
“He wasn’t afraid because he was a man of faith,” Wray said then. “In the days and weeks following the attacks Dave kept that faith, just as he kept his faith in the rule of law, in justice and in doing what was right.”
At the FBI’s crowded field offices, ceremonies and parties are commonplace. In Washington, Abbate figures, they had one about every day. Almost no one found time make it to all of them, but LeValley was somehow always there, among the people.