Throughout his life, Port Authority Officer Kenneth Tietjen was known for his kindness and willingness to help others in need.
Whether it was giving away bicycles to area kids at Christmas or volunteering at his local fire department, by all accounts, Tietjen held his fellow man in high regard and did whatever he could to help people.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Tietjen was working in New York City. He wasn’t particularly close to the World Trade Center, especially by New York standards, yet he still acted with bravery.
On that Tuesday morning, he was stationed at the 33rd Street PATH station on the opposite side of the city. He could have stayed there and helped people return home or aid as commuters tried to navigate through the mangled transit system, yet he felt compelled to run toward the fire on the day when terrorism hit Manhattan.
Fifteen years later, the story of how Tietjen got to the burning towers has become stuff of local legend in Middletown, New Jersey, a Jersey Shore suburb that lost 37 township residents on 9/11, including Tietjen.
“He rushed from his post … he commandeered a taxi cab and went to the World Trade Center,” then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said on the day of Tietjen’s funeral.
“As people were running out of the buildings, he ran with equal determination into the building in order to assist the evacuation of his fellow Port Authority officers and staff and anyone else he could find.”
When Tietjen and his partner reached the mayhem, they went into the north tower and helped people to safety. Once they got people to the street, they realized there was only one available respirator tank between the two of them that was necessary to breathe.
Tietjen grabbed the respirator and let his partner know he was going into the other tower.
“Seniority rules,” the New York Times would later report Tietjen told his partner.
With that, he ran into the south tower just before it came crumbling to the ground at 9:58 a.m.
Tietjen was also a volunteer firefighter. He left behind a mother and father, two sisters, a fiancé, and scores of family and friends who loved him.
In the years since his passing, Tietjen’s family has carried on his legacy of kindness in a variety of ways.
Their charitable acts began during the holiday season in 2001 when they decided to purchase bicycles just as he had.
“People from all over the country sent us money and we didn’t feel right spending that money,” Tietjen’s sister Laurie told Rare.
What started as 11 bicycles in 2001 has now turned into a charitable entity that helps more than 5,000 people a year — noted animal lover and New Jersey resident Jon Stewart is among its many supporters.
Laurie’s main focus is Mini Horse Heroes, a foundation that raises two miniature therapy horses to travel around the country providing happiness to those in need.
Honor and Hamlet receive extensive training to provide a calm and happy presence to the people they visit. They are deputized officers in many local police departments and often pay visit to families who have lost a loved on in the line of duty.
The two miniature horses help people with illness or who are recovering from trauma find the happy moments in life, just like the Tietjen family was forced to after 9/11.
As the 15th anniversary of her brother’s death comes into focus, Laurie will spend her time helping others while she mourns her family’s loss.
“I used to go to the ceremony [in New York City] every year, and now we go to all different police and fire stations and thank them for their service.”
This is part of a personal, original Rare series reflecting on a national-turned-hometown tragedy. See the complete series and find full 9/11 anniversary coverage at on.rare.us/911.