Steve Tegarden was walking down the hallway at work on the morning of September 11, 2001 when he came across some of his colleagues at the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office watching a newscast. Something horrible had happened. He thought that maybe it was a terrible accident. But then the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
Six months later, Tegarden – age 54 at the time and a Crime Scene Investigator with the CCSO – arrived at Ground Zero to do what he could to help as a member of the Salvation Army.
“We were put on notice very early on that some of the crime scene people throughout the country would be called in to help out,” Tegarden said. “Well, Indiana State Police sent a bunch of their people, and we ended up covering for them. So, I didn’t get to go. But then, in the last week of March (2002) and the first week of April, I ended up going with the Salvation Army.”
During his two weeks at Ground Zero, Tegarden was the site supervisor for the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
“We were working 24/7,” he said. “The (Salvation) Army was providing relief, spiritual relief, physical relief for the steelworkers, police officers, firefighters and everybody who was there. That was basically my job, was just to be there, and if somebody needed something – a drink or a sandwich or a prayer – we took care of their physical and emotional needs.”
Tegarden soon found out that everybody there was sharing that job in one way or another.
Originally from Muncie, Tegarden graduated high school in 1966. He once went to New York on a class trip and didn’t return with a very good impression.
“I remember New York being dirty and busy, and people were not very nice – that type of thing,” he said. “I went to New York after the towers came down and found the people to be caring and loving.
“We ate usually at the big kitchen that they set up,” he continued. “It would seat over 500 people. We would usually eat there. Sometimes we would go out. The entire time I was in New York, when I went off of that site, I did not buy a meal. We couldn’t buy a meal. You would get in line for fast food, and somebody would pick up the check for you. You would be sitting in a restaurant, and they would pick up the check for you. They told us early on to be sure and wear our clothes to identify who we were and what we were there for. And the people of New York related to that very well. They welcomed us with open arms.”
When Tegarden arrived at Ground Zero, it had been several months since a body was found.
“When I got there, they were excavating about three stories into the ground, and they started finding the bodies of the police officers and the fire fighters that had been on the main floor in the command center,” he said. “It was kind of a tough duty for me. I was wearing two IDs – a badge for the Sheriff’s Department, and I was wearing a Salvation Army ID. I was right at the pit. That was my station. It was a tough duty because they started finding bodies of police officers and firefighters.
“It doesn’t make a lot of difference whether you wear a badge in Frankfort, Indiana or New York City,” Tegarden said. “It is a brotherhood.”
Tegarden detailed the procedure that was followed each time a body was found.
“They would call the recovery team in, bag the body, and they would call the Salvation Army down,” he said. “We would prepare a flag. We provided the flag, and they would drape the body bag with the flag. Everything would stop. The equipment would stop. Everybody would stop. If they needed to call parents, relatives, husbands or wives, they would go get them and bring them to the site. They would bring them right to where they found the body. They would have a short ceremony that was provided by the (Salvation) Army there at the site. The body was put on a backboard, put on the back of a John Deere Gator – there was a huge ramp that had been built from the bottom of the pit up to street level. The Gator would go to the foot of the bridge, and a few words said there. It would go midway up the bridge and stop, a few words. Up at the top, a few more words said, and the body would be loaded into the ambulance and taken to the medical examiner’s office.”
Tegarden recalled one particularly difficult night.
“I came in one night at 11 p.m. or a little before, and the Salvation Army officer that was there found a couple of bodies just as we arrived, and he said ‘I will take care of this.’ So, he went ahead and did the ceremony, and he left with the family and go to the medical examiner’s office. The officer that was assigned to our detail was there with me. About half an hour after they started, they found a couple more bodies. They called the people in. We did the ceremony, and they left. A couple hours later, they found two more bodies. I had been given the document that had been agreed upon by the fire department, the police department, New York City and the Salvation Army. It was a script. I was told that there would always by clergy there, but ‘just in case, here it is. Familiarize yourself with it.’
“I found myself holding the son of a firefighter – he had never met his father – in my arms,” Tegarden continued with some difficulty. “I ministered over the body with his wife standing there. Sometimes you are called upon to do things you are not trained to do. That was a tough day.”
Most of the days that Tegarden worked near the pit at Ground Zero through his two weeks, the remains of firefighters and police officers were found.
“They were excavating that area where the command center was so, consequently, they were brining up a lot of people,” he said.
Tegarden went on to work with the Salvation Army through other tough days throughout the years that followed, in places like Haiti and Joplin, Missouri. But those two weeks in New York City had a profound effect on Tegarden.
“I went to a lot of different disaster sites over the years,” Tegarden said. “This was much different because the brotherhood issue.
“I appreciate life,” he added. “I appreciate my opportunities to serve others. If people go through their life without others on their mind, they are really losing out.”