By Kathianne Boniello
The bright sun and blue skies Tuesday morning belied the somber silence outside St. Robert’s Bellarmine Church in Bayside as hundreds gathered to memorialize Fire Lt. Michael Russo — one of the 343 city firefighters lost in the Sept. 11 destruction of the Twin Towers.
Russo, 44, served for more than 20 years in the city Fire Department and had recently been promoted to the rank of lieutenant as part of the FDNY’s special operations unit.
On Sept. 11, Russo was working with Rescue 5 on Staten Island when they got the call to go to the World Trade Center. Russo, a resident of Nesconset, L.I. was lost when the Twin Towers collapsed.
More than 600 people packed St. Robert’s at 58th Avenue and 213th Street for the service this week.
Hundreds of uniformed firefighters and police officers stood at grave attention outside the church as Russo’s flag-draped casket was carried inside. A large photo of a smiling Russo stood next to the firefighter’s empty dress jacket and hat, hung loosely on a stand at the front of the church.
Remembered as an active athlete who loved golf and ice hockey, Russo was also known for his love of cooking and his dedication to family and friends, including his wife, Theresa, and young son, Michael. His nieces and nephews often referred to him as “silly Uncle Mike.”
The Rev. William Breslawski described Russo as “a spectacular husband and a wonderful father. He was a people person, even beyond family. He helped to pick up people’s spirits.”
Russo’s niece Alexandra read a poem about her uncle at the service.
“I have so many things to say about Uncle Michael,” she read. “I don’t know where to start, but I think I’ll start, straight from my heart: I know Uncle Michael is a hero.”
Nephew Kevin Shalley remembered Russo as a patient man who was the first to take him golfing and skiing.
“Thank you, Uncle Mike, for we know you are not only a national hero but our hero,” he said.
Anthony Russo recalled fond memories of his mischievous and active brother, who he said “had just enough charm to get him in and out of trouble.”
In talking about Sept. 11, Anthony Russo said he had heard that the eight or nine hijackers who crashed two commercial airliners into the Twin Towers had been called martyrs in some parts of the world.
“In the future, if anybody asks me, I’ll tell them the martyrs that day were the ones running into the buildings with the letters NY on their uniforms,” he said. “And my brother was one of them.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.