Tunnel to Towers Foundation pays off mortgage for family of fallen Philly officer

Sgt. James O’Connor (far left) poses for a photo with his daughter Kelsey, wife Terri and son James.

By Jack Tomczuk

The family of Philadelphia Police Cpl. James O’Connor will no longer have to worry about making mortgage payments.

Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a New York City-based charity founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, paid off the family’s house earlier this week.

O’Connor, 46, who was promoted to sergeant after his death, was fatally shot in March while conducting a SWAT raid on a Frankford house in search of a murder suspect. He was the first city officer killed in the line of duty in five years.

His wife, Terri, said she first learned of the offer from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby a few days after the shooting.

“I just cried,” said Terri O’Connor, in a statement provided by the foundation. “The generosity of people is beyond overwhelming and hard to accept. I’m coming to learn that this is Jim’s way of still taking care of us.”

The O’Connor family declined an interview, and a Tunnel to Towers spokesperson did not say how much was left on their mortgage, citing privacy concerns.

Frank Siller, the foundation’s CEO, said financial worries set in early for those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.

“Not only do they miss their partner, their loved one is gone, the practical side is saying, ‘Are we going to be able to stay in the house where we’ve had the dreams and the memories that they made together?’” he told Metro.

“It is a thought that comes into their mind,” Siller added. “There’s no question about it. I know it, because I’ve talked to so many widows, sad to say, over the last several years.”

Sgt. James O’Connor (far right) poses for a photo with his son James, wife Terri and daughter Kelsey. (PHOTO: Provided)

Siller and his siblings started Tunnel to Towers to honor their brother, Stephen, a New York firefighter who died after running through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel with his gear to get to the World Trade Center.

The organization began focusing on mortgages in 2014, when the families of two fallen NYPD officers expressed concerns about the monthly payments.

Tunnel to Towers plans to pay off 36 homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Last month, it covered mortgage payments for the family of Michael Bernstein, a 46-year-old city firefighter who died last year after a medical emergency at the Philadelphia International Airport.

“The reaction is, they’re very grateful,” Siller said. “They can’t believe there’s an organization willing to do this.”

Donations fund the effort, with many recurring benefactors contributing $11 a month. Sometimes, the foundation takes over a mortgage, paying the bill until they raise enough to cover the remainder, Siller said.

In addition to his wife, O’Connor, who had been with the PPD for 23 years, left behind his son, James, who is also a Philadelphia police officer, and daughter, Kelsey, who is serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“On March 13, 2020, without any warning, my world was flipped upside down,” Terri said in the Tunnel to Towers news release. “Life became a blur after that. I go through the motions each day. Yet, I barely function.”

Local authorities have charged three men in connection with O’Connor’s murder, and, earlier this month, a federal indictment was unsealed charging four men, opening up the possibility of a death sentence for the alleged triggerman, 22-year-old Hassan Elliot.

This story first appeared on our sister publication philly.metro.us.