Seventeen years after two planes collided into New York’s World Trade Center, the death toll continues to rise. Anthony Hanlon, a New York City Police Department officer from Merrick who volunteered after the attacks, died on Oct. 21 from a resulting cancer.
Following complaints of pain in his ribs and cold-like symptoms, Hanlon was diagnosed with leukemia and multiple myeloma in March 2017. He underwent two stem cell transplants and spent more than 100 of his final days in Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Hanlon grew up in Merrick, and graduated from Calhoun High School. After he retired from the NYPD, he settled in Pennsylvania with his fiancée, Sheila Bernales, and her daughter, Angelica Balili.
He died one day before his 50th birthday.
Hanlon’s eagerness to volunteer and help others on Sept. 11, 2001, reflected his lifelong selflessness, his friends and family said. Those closest to him described him as a loyal police officer, a faithful brother, fiancé and father figure.
As a teenager, he “could’ve been hanging out with his friends,” said Hanlon’s sister, Jennifer, 44. “But he saved up quarters and brought his sister to play arcade games.”
Hanlon and his siblings grew up in the 1980s, bickering over Nintendo versus Sega or Atari — Jennifer preferred Nintendo, but Anthony “went the Sega route,” she said — or went to the local stores to play pinball and arcade machines.
Jennifer recalled the pinball machine at Roma’s Pizzeria. At the time, she was too short to reach the flippers, but her brother held her up and taught her how to play. He would also save up quarters and take her to Food Town in Merrick to play the games there.
“I’m not surprised you became a police officer,” Jennifer wrote in a Facebook post after her brother’s death. “You had the instinct to protect and serve since we were children.”
“He was heroic, and he really cared,” recalled Hanlon’s childhood friend, Chris Connelly. “He was a dedicated friend, and I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Hanlon, Connelly and Connelly’s brother, Edward, spent enough time together that they saw each other’s families as extensions of their own.
This past Christmas, Hanlon suspected it might be his final holiday season. He invited his family to his Pennsylvania home, where he watched his cousin’s daughter, Paige, enjoy the first snowfall of her life.
“You were like a kid again, building a snowman and having a snowball fight,” Jennifer wrote in her post.
After graduating from Calhoun, Hanlon attended Penn State University and then followed his brother Ted’s lead in becoming a New York City police officer.
“Anthony was a cop’s cop,” said Mike Mazzilli, Hanlon’s partner from 1992 to 1998 in South Midtown, Manhattan. “He was always worried about the other guy. He would always try to do the right thing, sometimes overly caring about others.”
Hanlon and Mazzilli became best friends. They did everything together, Mazzilli said, even off-duty — Hanlon ended up serving as Mazzilli’s best man at his wedding.
“We gravitated toward each other,” Mazzilli said. “He was an extrovert and I was an introvert. We just worked so well — he would always know what I was thinking or what I would do.”
On duty, Hanlon kept things light. He would bring smiles to 3 a.m. shifts with his loud, rambunctious attitude, Mazzilli said. He relieved others through humor, and brought out the best in everyone. “He made me less serious,” Mazzilli said.
Hanlon served as a youth officer in the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn. The program targets at-risk kids and mentors them. Several of the young people he taught became members of the NYPD.
On Sept. 11, 2001, he undertook search-and-rescue operations to find victims in the rubble of the twin towers.
He retired from the force in 2010. In the following years, he performed as an extra in television shows including “Millionaire Matchmaker,” “Blue Bloods” and “The Following.” He often portrayed a cop, Bernales said.
Hanlon and Bernales had been dating for only four months when he decided to propose in 2009. In August 2010 the couple moved to Pennsylvania with Bernales’s daughter, Angelica Balili. The two did not marry.
“He was really Angelica’s only father figure,” Bernales said. “He helped mold her to become a fine young lady.”
Balili, as Bernales explained, was a reserved 9-year-old when she met Hanlon. He helped her break out of that shell, though, and now she is an independent 20-year-old junior in college.
“He helped bring an everyday, normal family life,” Balili said. The two would play Xbox and board games together, and cook.
“He was a friend and a parent,” she added. “Looking back, I’m glad I got to do those mini-tasks with him. I consider him my dad, even if he annoyed me sometimes.”
Throughout his final days, Hanlon exuded selflessness, Bernales said. He was constantly concerned about others, even while he was fighting to survive.
“Anthony felt so bad he wouldn’t be there for Balili’s graduation,” Bernales said. “He was always worried about me. He asked, who will take care of me? He was thinking about everyone else, and didn’t want to see anyone suffer.”
Hanlon’s funeral was held on Oct. 26. He was the 157th NYPD officer to die of a Sept. 11-related sickness, Jennifer said.
In addition to his siblings, Bernales and Balili, Hanlon is survived by his mother, Edythe Hanlon.