9/11 claims one more victim
DAILY NEWS SEPT 4th 2008 writer Michael Daly
After Kenny Johannemann shot himself, relatives found a letter on White House stationery in the one-room apartment he shared only with his cat.
October 31, 2001
We send you our heartfelt thanks and the thanks of a grateful Nation for your selfless efforts in responding to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Your actions in the midst of this national tragedy were truly heroic. Your saving a man who was on fire by dragging him out of an elevator and getting him to an ambulance reflected the best of the American spirit.
Johannemann was a part-time janitor assigned to clean rest rooms in the north tower on 9/11 and was, indeed, credited with saving a man.
His family says that day changed him, that he became withdrawn and began drinking heavily, falling in and out of work.
Twelve days before the seventh anniversary of the day he saved a life, Johannemann took his own.
The police then vouchered another letter, the suicide note the 43-year-old wrote on Sunday afternoon, shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline his landlord had set for him to vacate for nonpayment of rent.
"The reason I killed myself was 'cause I was getting evicted and I can't handle being homeless. I also am very depressed since I was in 9/11. I've been drinking way too much and it's ruined my life. I've lost friends and family over drinking and I'm very lonely. There is nothing left for me to be happy about other than my cat. Sounds weird, but it's true. I just wanted to say sorry 2 any people I ever hurt in my life. I really was a good person when I wasn't drinking. I hope people remember that!
On a separate sheet was a plea: "Please find my cat a home. His name is Papa-Boy and he's a very special cat."
The police brought Papa-Boy to the 122nd Precinct stationhouse on Staten Island. The tabby was trembling when one of Johannemann's cousins, Gerald Maya, picked him up. Maya also collected Johannemann's cell phone. He dialed every number in it to pass on the tragic news.
"Everybody I called on his cell phone said, 'I would have given him the money. The guy was beautiful.'" Maya said Wednesday. "Nothing bad on this man."
Maya had offered Johannemann a place to stay, as had another cousin who lived nearby. Johannemann had declined.
"I really can't tell you why," Maya said.
The other cousin, Joseph Maya, spoke of the Johannemann before 9/11; a man who seemed content in his work and who delighted in his extended family.
"He had a job and he was happy," Joseph Maya said.
Johannemann often said he might have been killed on 9/11 had he not stopped to get a cup of coffee just before the plane hit.
Otherwise, he might have been on an elevator when a jet crashed and flaming fuel poured down the shaft.
Instead, he was waiting for an elevator when he heard a huge bang and the doors burst open. A man tumbled out on fire and Johannemann helped him to an ambulance.
"He was burned up bad but he was still alive," Johannemann told People magazine.
In the aftermath, Johannemann appeared on the "Jenny Jones Show" and received the letter from the White House. Privately, the hero became a reclusive alcoholic.
"He just started backing away and not bothering with anyone," Joseph Maya recalled.
He avoided family, even on the holidays he had always loved. He seemed convinced he was friendless and alone.
"He said he had nobody, but meanwhile everybody loved him," Joseph Maya said.
In May, he moved into a single room on Rome Ave. He landed a job as a custodian at a Manhattan museum two weeks ago, but he had fallen two months behind on his rent. The landlord, Anthony Mallazzi, told him to be out by 5 p.m. Sunday.
As the deadline neared, one of Mallazzi's sons heard a sound like a popping paper bag. Mallazzi arrived home soon afterward and went to see if his tenant had moved out. The door was open.
"I said, 'Kenny? Kenny?'" Mallazzi recalled.
Mallazzi entered and saw Johannemann. Nearby lay the two letters, the one on White House stationery and the suicide note.
"He was a 9/11 hero," Mallazzi said Wednesday. "He saved a person on 9/11."
"Who the hell's to blame?" Mallazzi said. "I feel a little guilty. Everybody feels a little guilty."
On Wednesday, Johannemann was waked at a Brooklyn funeral home.
Papa-Boy was at the cousin's house, cowering in corners, but beginning to venture out.
"At least he stopped shaking," Gerald Maya said.