U.S. News

03.25.14

Hero or Criminal? James Brady, the WTC Ironworker Who Jumped Off the Building

He set in place the beam on the 104th floor signed by President Obama and the First Lady. Then, last September, ironworker James Brady parachuted from the top of One World Trade Center, filming his dramatic descent.

The daredevil who made the helmet-cam video of himself parachuting with two buddies from atop 1 World Trade Center is a legendarily skilled ironworker who helped build that very same tower.

Video screenshot

In fact, 32-year-old James Brady was one of the ironworkers who set in place the beam on the 104th floor that had been signed by President Obama and the First Lady.

Brady is particularly known for his climbing ability and he was also on the team that completed the spire atop the building, making it the tallest building in the city.

He did that without a parachute, making the task even more daring than when he and his buddies slipped up to the top of the tower on the early morning of September 30 last year.

Anybody should be able to understand how epically and irresistibly poetic it must have felt for an uncommonly talented ironworker from a family of ironworkers to jump from an historic tower he help build.

Brady waited for one of his buddies to jump so as to film it. He himself then followed, the camera attached to his helmet recording the descent through the pre-dawn darkness.

In our look-at-me era, Brady and his buddies were those rare souls who were doing something remarkable but hoping to get no attention at all. They were doing it just for the sake of doing it. And the minute they landed their only intention was to pack their parachutes and get away without being caught or anybody finding out where they were.

And they might have gotten away with it had a security guard at the Goldman Sachs building across from the World Trade Center not seen one of them hurriedly packing up something out front on West Street.

The guard called 911 to report what a police official would later describe as “something suspicious.” Police responded and a check of the Goldman Sachs surveillance cameras showed three parachutists alighting on the pavement.

What the camera did not show was where the jump had begun. They conceivably could have leapt from a number of tall buildings and then drifted over to where they landed.

“The only thing that paints them in a negative light is that in the post 9/11 world everybody looks at them as potential terrorism.”

“You couldn’t tell where they came from,” a police official reports.

Had this been in some other part of the city, the police might have just stopped there. But this was across from the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center, considered to be the top terrorist target in the world. Anything that might involve its security had to be considered important.

Detectives checked out cameras in the surrounding area and saw that a car had been circling, slowing down at times, pulling over, then moving, then pulling over again just within view, a figure in dark clothes getting out.

But the images were too dim and indistinct to make out a face or a license plate number. The detectives were only able to establish the car’s make and model.

The detectives expanded the search, checking cameras in a widening area along with license plate readers at bridges and tunnels for cars of that description. They narrowed the possibilities to a small list and began background checks on the owners.

One of the cars proved to be registered to a well known family of ironworkers. The detectives determined that one of them, James Brady, had worked on the tower. A records check showed that he had been arrested along with three other people in December of 2012 for attempting to jump off a 33-storey tower in Co-Op City in the Bronx.

The next step was to subpoena Brady’s cell phone records. Police say they show that he was in the vicinity of the World Trade Center at the time of the jump.

A check of Brady’s calls in that time frame led detectives to 33-year-old Andrew Rossig, who had been arrested with him in the Bronx. Two other persons of interest, 27-year-old Marco Markovich and 29-year-old Kyle Hartwell, had not been among the earlier four, but detectives were convinced that they had been there for the World Trade Center jump.

In January, detectives executed search warrants on the homes of the four suspects. They discovered helmet camera footage that established the jump had indeed been from the top of 1 World Trade Center.

Police say that the final pieces of the puzzle were put together in the second week of March. The four had all retained lawyers and detectives proposed allowing the suspects to surrender on Thursday.

The detectives then heard that at least one of the lawyers planned to hold a press conference beforehand. There were rumblings that the lawyer was going to contend that the police were only acting out of embarrassment over the teenager who eluded security and made it to the top of the Freedom Tower last week. A detective is said to have called the lawyer and suggested that if he wanted it make it a spectacle his squad could make it all the more of one.

The four surrendered to the First Precinct on Monday and were “perp walked” before the news cameras. Brady was among them, the skilled hands that had put in place the last piece of the Freedom Tower now cuffed behind him.

They were arraigned in Manhattan criminal court on charges of burglary, reckless endangerment and jumping from a structure. Kyle was said to have served only as a lookout while the others jumped.

“Utter recklessness,” Judge Neil Ross said of the jump.

All four pleaded not guilty and were freed on $3,500 bail.  Police Commissioner William Bratton made clear his feelings regarding their actions.

“These men violated the law and placed themselves, as well as others, in danger,” Bratton said. “These arrests should send a message to anyone thinking about misusing a landmark this way.”

However you felt about it, you had to admire the skill and resourcefulness of the detectives. At the same time, one cop recalled tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who became a kind of hero after walking the highest of high wires between the twin towers in 1974.

“That became part of the folklore of the World Trade Center,” the cop noted.  

Now that the towers have been toppled and the single spire has risen in their place there can be no more tightrope walks. But the cop figures that Brady and his friends could be viewed as Petit’s successors.

“The modern day version,” the cop said. “The only thing that paints them in a negative light is that in the post 9/11 world everybody looks at them as potential terrorism.”

If there was poetry in Petit’s walk, there is all the more in Brady’s jump. He is already widely considered to be one of the very best ironworkers. He is now sure to become a folk hero among his brethren on high steel. He is the one who parachuted off a tower that he helped to build, the daredevil who had previously faced the on-the-job dangers that all of his trade routinely face to little public notice.

And, lest anybody doubt that he and his parachute buddies do not have their hearts in the right place, they have announced that any profits that come from the helmet-cam video presently on YouTube will go the families of those who died on 9/11.

For the very reason that the jump was at Ground Zero, the police had to take it as a possible security threat. And, there was a possibility—however slight at 3 a.m.—that somebody below could have gotten hurt in a place where nobody should ever get hurt again. There is a kind of wanted poster with Brady’s picture that has gone up by the entrance to the Freedom Tower saying he should never be allowed on the property again.

Maybe there should be an amendment to the jumping off a structure law, a kind of ironworker exception; one of them who helped build it should be able to arrange for parachuting off it in a way that endangers nobody else.

As for the Freedom Tower, Brady has already taken care of it and nobody should ever try that jump again.

Meanwhile, we have the video that the whole world is watching.