A funeral mass will be held Wednesday morning at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria for former NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, a 9/11 first responder who died in hospice Saturday morning.
Alvarez, 53, succumbed to colorectal and liver cancer he had battled for the last three years, and his death came just weeks after his emotional testimony in Congress urging them to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund that would cover health benefits to first responders and survivors, which is projected to run out of funding next year.
“It is with peace and comfort, that the Alvarez family announces that Luis (Lou) Alvarez, our warrior, has gone home to our Good Lord in heaven today,” the family said in a statement on Saturday. “Please remember his words, ‘Please take care of yourselves and each other.’ We told him at the end that he had won this battle by the many lives he had touched by sharing his three-year battle. He was at peace with that surrounded by family.”
Alvarez was born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in the Ditmars section of Astoria. He graduated from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst in 1983 before serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He joined the NYPD in 1990, where he was assigned to the 108th Precinct in Long Island City. After responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Alvarez spent three months on the pile searching for survivors and remains while breathing in the toxic dust that has claimed the lives of nearly 400 first responders who battled 9/11-related cancers and other respiratory diseases.
More than 2,000 active FDNY personnel and nearly 1,000 members of the NYPD have been forced into early retirement due to debilitating 9/11 illnesses.
Alvarez gained national recognition on June 11, where he and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart testified before a House committee urging that the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund continue to be funded.
“Less than 24 hours from now I will be starting my 69th round of chemotherapy, yeah, you heard that correctly,” Alvarez testified. “I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else.”
Sitting alongside Stewart for his testimony, Alvarez told the five members of Congress who attended the hearing, “You all said you would never forget. Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t.”
The following day the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to bass the bill restoring the VCF. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney championed the VCF and worked closely with Alvarez over the years.
“Det. Alvarez is by every definition a true American hero,” she wrote on Twitter. “It is one of the honors of my life that I got to work with him & call him a friend.”
John Feal, a fierce 9/11 activist and first responder at Ground Zero called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to present Alvarez the key to the city during an appearance on CNN.
“The 9/11 community lost a giant and it extends now past the 9/11 community because Luis touched America. Luis led his life with dignity and the American people see that,” Feal said. “Our souls are crushed.”
Alvarez entered hospice in Rockville Centre, Long Island on June 20. Five days later, Feal and his team returned to Washington for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who committed to bringing the bill to a vote in the Senate after Feal gave him Alvarez’s detective shield to remind that first responders are still dying from 9/11.
“We’re going to bury a hero Wednesday,” Feal said. “But make no mistake: We’re going to be sharpening our swords and we’re going back to D.C. with a new vigor and Congress better sense our urgency.”
Alvarez was survived by his wife, Alaine; his sons, David, Tyler and Benjamin; his parents, Felipe and Aida; his brothers Philip and Fernando; and his sister, Aida Lugo.