The Story of Gary Box on 9/11

On September 13 2019 a Reddit user shared the following post (“[His] Name is Gary Box”) to r/HumansBeingBros:

Above a photograph of a firefighter in a tunnel, an apparent screenshot of an unidentified social media post read:

I guess I have a different definition of what it means to ‘sacrifice everything’.

I posted this last year and will do it again every year, worth reposting. Some give a little, some give a lot and some gave everything. This is a picture of NYC firefighter Gary Box. On 9/11 his truck was stuck in traffic so he got out and ran to the towers. He died that day, his body never recovered. This is what a hero looks like. Don’t be afraid to share this, he sacrificed everything and should not be forgotten.

No credit for the message nor information about the image’s origin was supplied by its Reddit poster, a karma-focused account that seems to primarily share posts but not comment or interact with the community at large. Earlier in September 2019, the same image without the copied text was shared to r/lastimages:

Initial investigation of the photograph revealed not only that it indeed shows NYFD firefighter Gary Box, but that the image itself was initially “lost” and not rediscovered until 2009. On September 11 2010, CNN reported that Box’s family had for years sought further information about his final hours.

After coming across an image first thought to possibly depict Box (it didn’t), his father attempted to dig further and locate a relevant photograph:

Judson Box has never known exactly how his son, Gary, died on September 11, 2001. But an unexpected find nine years later has given him a glimpse into his son’s final hours.

Gary, then 35, had been working as a firefighter in Brooklyn for roughly five years when the terrorists attacked. He did not speak to his father the day of the attack and his body was never recovered, leaving the circumstances of his death a mystery … The discovery [of a different image of a different firefighter] compelled Gary’s father to dig deeper, clinging to the possibility that there could be a similar picture of his son out there.

Box scoured photo archives of the National 9/11 Museum and the memorial’s website, which allows users to upload photos from 9/11 directly to the site.

After searching one night for more than five hours, Box went to sleep, physically and emotionally exhausted. The next morning, his wife, Helen, called him into the living room as he was eating breakfast.

She showed him a photo of a firefighter running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel toward the Towers alongside cars stuck in traffic.

This time, it was Gary.

Four days later, Long Island newspaper Newsday reported on the circumstances under which the photo was unearthed, and how it gave Gary Box’s family much-desired information about his actions on 9/11:

The lives of both Judson Box and Erik Troelsen were changed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. A photograph brought them together.

The pair, one a retired Town of Hempstead highway maintenance foreman, and the other a Danish engineer, met for the first time onstage at a Manhattan fundraiser for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum [in 2010], when Box fervently thanked the man who had brought his family a measure of peace.

Troelsen, [then] 42 and living in Switzerland, posted photographs last fall on the museum’s online archive of 9/11 images, videos and stories. One showed a firefighter in full gear striding through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel ahead of his traffic-stalled fire truck shortly after the attacks.

When Box’s wife, Helen, saw the photograph online, they found it was the only known image of Box’s son Gary on the day he and 11 others from his Brooklyn firehouse lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

That coverage noted that a synchronicity brought Judson Box and Erik Troelsen together, as the former was apprehensive about speaking in public:

Box, who didn’t know he’d meet Troelsen until a few hours before the fundraiser, had originally declined the invitation to speak because he’s uncomfortable with public speaking.

But he changed his mind: When he was stopped at a Florida intersection to make way for a wailing fire truck, he saw it bore the same squad number as his son’s unit. A museum official asked why he’d decided to accept. “I told him that story and said that my son wanted me to do it,” he said. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

Box’s name appeared in initial accountings of those who died in service on September 11 2001, but the story didn’t fully develop until 2010.

To recap, a post to r/HumansBeingBros showed an image of Gary Box (discovered several years after 9/11) and accompanied by text, which showed the fallen fireman and accurately related his story. Further notable was that Box’s parents and wife were unaware of the photograph for nearly nine years, and its discovery led to some peace for them. In the image, Box is seen on foot traversing the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to reach the World Trade Center more quickly. He is believed to have died just 45 minutes after the image was captured.