Montclair State University Police Sgt. Christopher Vidro, his wife Tori Lyn Vidro and Chief Paul Cell pose for a photo in 2004. (Courtesy of Montclair State University Police)
Summit Officer Matthew Tarentino (Courtesy of Summit police)
Toni Lyn Vidro was at the school where she was teaching on Sept. 11, 2001, when her husband called to tell her his plan.
“Don’t get mad,” Christopher Vidro said, “but I’m going over to the city.”
Then a police officer at Montclair State University, his department needed two cops to run toward the danger.
“I don’t think for one minute he really thought he’d be in danger, or if he thought about it, he never expressed it to me,” Toni Vidro said Tuesday. “They told him to go, and he went.”
Her husband survived the attack, but died six years later from a blood cancer he contracted after inhaling carcinogens at Ground Zero. He left behind a 4-year-old son and a daughter born just 13 days earlier.
Vidro is one of two police officers from New Jersey whose names will be added in May to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. Summit police Officer Matthew Tarentino, who was killed in a crash on Route 78 last year, will also get his name on the monument.
The aftermath of 9/11
Before he became a first responder at the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, Christopher Vidro was a New York Jets fan, an action movie aficionado and the most organized person his wife had ever met.
On the day the planes hit the Twin Towers, Toni Vidro didn’t hear from Christopher for hours. His chief, Paul Cell, called Toni throughout the day to reassure her that Christopher was doing fine helping injured first responders at Stuyvesant High School.
When he returned home the next day, Toni said they immediately threw out his soot-covered uniform. He had been near another World Trade Center building when it collapsed.
Christopher was very quiet when he got home, which Toni said was unusual for him.
“I guess he just saw a lot of things that took him a while to process,” she said. “Knowing how many people had died there that day was very upsetting — the loss of their fellow officers and firemen, it was just incredibly emotional for them.”
Things seemed fine for the next few years, she said, until pain and numbness in his shoulder in 2004 was diagnosed as multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
More than 7,000 first responders to the World Trade Center contracted some form of cancer afterward, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Christopher Vidro continued to work until he died on July 25, 2007, at the age of 35, soon after meeting his newborn daughter, Megan, for the first time.
Looking to honor Vidro’s service, his police department sought to prove that he had died from toxins he was exposed to in the line of duty. After poring over medical records and other documents, Capt. Kieran Barrett said, the department submitted an application to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Barrett, who joined the department with Vidro in 1998 and was his close friend, will travel to Washington, D.C., in May with Cell and Toni Vidro to see his fallen colleague’s name added to the memorial downtown.
The monument, Barrett said, “makes you remember why you do this job and why you continue to do this job.”
Honoring the fallen
Tarentino, whose name will also be added to the memorial, died in May when a driver crossed the median and hit Tarentino’s car while he was driving to work in Summit. A five-year veteran of the city police department, he served as a well-known school D.A.R.E. officer.
He was also a father of two sons. His wife, Victoria Tarentino, gave birth to his daughter three months after he died.
Victoria could not be reached for comment for this story.
“I knew every single day that he loved me,” she said at Tarentino’s funeral in June. “And he loved our children.”
Tarentino, 29, grew up in Somerville and graduated from Immaculata High School in 2006. His wife was one year ahead of him at the same grade school and high school.
He went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in communications and a minor in Spanish. He played tennis in college and briefly afterward.
Twenty miles away in Montclair, Vidro was running programs in crime prevention and community policing. His chief said he is remembered as a selfless person who was willing to give everything for others.
“That’s what it’s about,” Cell said. “That’s what we do as police officers. We say we sign on for the oath and the anthem — the oath that we swear to and the anthem of this nation.”
The names of 360 officers from across the country will be added to the national memorial this year.
To Toni Vidro, knowing her husband’s name will be added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial is particularly meaningful because he valued it so much when he visited it annually as a police officer.
“That memorial meant a lot to him when he was an active officer,” Toni Vidro said. “I’m sure he never imagined something happening to him down the line, but … knowing that that was such a special thing to him makes it even more special to us.”
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