Stephen Siller Foundation aims to raise $800,000 to pay off mortgages of slain NYPD Officers

Vincent Barone, Staten Island Advance

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced Friday that it aims to raise $800,000 to completely pay off the mortgages of the family homes of slain New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

“It’s important to show the Liu and Ramos families that we’re coming together as a family, as New Yorkers and as Americans. And we want to help lift them out of some of the despair that they’re in today,” said Frank Siller, chairman of Tunnel to Towers, at a press conference at the foundation’s headquarters in New Dorp.

Siller said he aspires to meet the donation goal by the end of the year in order to “quickly bring peace and comfort to the families.”

The Liu family came to Staten Island for the press conference. Officer Liu’s wife, Sanny Chen and mother, Zoo Yan Lee, broke down in tears several times during the conference. The family did not speak to the media, but issued a statement thanking the foundation for its support.

“On behalf of the Liu family, we would like the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and also Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Former Mayor Giuliani and everyone who has showed their support during this difficult time,” the family said.

The non-profit organization says it has raised $70,000 in the first 48 hours since the foundation’s first announcement to buy the homes. “And I’m confident that number will continue to go up,” said John Hodge, vice president of Tunnel to Towers.

“With the announcement this morning,” Hodge said. “We’re hoping to, in some small way, to provide some light at these two families’ moments of darkness.”

The Liu family was joined by the Siller family, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Assemblyman Michael Cusick, who sits on the board of directors at the foundation, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and John Puglissi, first vice president of the Police Benevolent Association.

Giulliani announced he had contributed $20,000 to the foundation to help reach its goal. He said he had meet with the Liu and Ramos families on Tuesday and praised the two officers for their hard work.

“These [police officers] die for you. They die to keep you safe … You owe them this money because they are keeping you safe,” said Giulliani.

The Tunnel to Tower Foundation was formed in memory of Stephen Siller, a West Brighton native and father of five, who raced to the World Trade Center through the Battery Tunnel on September 11 and died while participating in the rescue effort.

“Our goal is to get these houses paid for,” said Frank Siller. “We know the generosity of the American people and we certainly know the generosity of all New Yorkers. We’ve seen it. We remember the spirit of New Yorkers on Sept. 12. And that’s what we’re aiming for today.”

The mortgage buyout is the foundation’s latest home-related charity effort. By the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy this October, Hodge said the organization has rebuilt 150 homes for families.

The foundation also provides financial support to help build specialized, adapted homes for injured U.S. military veterans.

On the mortgage payment donations, Cusick said, “That’s what foundations should be doing and we’re lucky on Staten Island that we have some really good foundations that think outside the box.”

Cusick and Hodge credited the governor for making the foundation aware of the Liu family’s financial issues. Prior obligations kept Cuomo from attending the press conference.

But the governor issued a statement that read: “New York is a community that stands together during the darkest and most difficult times. As we mourn the loss of these fallen heroes, and comfort their loved ones, let us honor their memory by doing all we can — as the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation has done today — to take care of these families now and for years to come.”

Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40, were shot to death, “execution-style,” by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, while the two were working overtime as part of an anti-terrorism drill in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Saturday. Brinsley, 28, who had a history of mental illness, had shot his girlfriend in Baltimore earlier that day before traveling to New York to carry out the police assassinations.

Officer Ramos had been a school safety agent at Rocco Laurie Intermediate School on Staten Island before fulfilling his dream of becoming an NYPD officer in 2012. He lived with his immediate family in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.

Officer Liu, who attended the College of Staten Island, lived in Brooklyn’s Gravesend with extended family coming from Taishan, in Guangdong Province, China. He was an auxiliary officer before becoming a police officer in 2007.

Fire Commissioner Nigro called Tunnel to Towers’ effort a symbolic unity of the police and fire departments of the city.

“When the Police Department grieves, the Fire Department grieves. And when the Fire Department grieves, the Police Department grieves with us,” said Nigro. “We come together at times like this … and we hope that inspires the people of New York to donate.”

The Siller Foundation is accepting donations on its website,, and by check, made out to the organization with a memo explaining that the money is for the officers’ mortgage payments.

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