Sometimes funny stuff happens at funerals.
And enough time has gone by since Sept. 11, 2001, for Alan Frye to smile about the good times.
“I spoke at the memorial service, and afterward, this real pretty girl came up, said her name was Kelly and that she was Angel’s girlfriend. She thanked me for coming. A few minutes later, another girl walked up and said she was Angel’s girlfriend. Then another one, and another one. By the time it was done, there must have been 10 of them that said the same thing. It got to the point that I was wondering if it was some kind of joke. But it wasn’t. That was just Angel.”
Alan, who sports a tattoo with a firefighter’s helmet and the name Angel on his right forearm, is working the counter at Vol Market #3 today, just like any other Tuesday.
But if his regular customers need a reminder that it’s not an ordinary day, Frye will be wearing it across his chest.
“I’ll be wearing my Angel shirt,” he said. The red-sleeved, white baseball-style T-shirt sports the smiling face of a young firefighter named Angel Juarbe – Engine 3, Ladder 12, Battalion 7, from the Manhattan firehall known as The Pride of Chelsea.
Angel died on Sept. 11, 2001, when the South Tower of the World Trade Center came crashing down after being stuck by a hijacked passenger jet. The North Tower had already collapsed after a jet plane had slammed into it. Angel had volunteered to go back into the building to retrieve some ropes a co-worker had left behind. Once inside, he heard a May Day call from up an upper floor and was one of several firefighters who were making their way up the stairs when the second tower collapsed. The firefighter who left the ropes behind has visited Frye in Knoxville.
When the Knoxville Fire Department holds its fifth annual 911 Memorial Stair Climb at the World’s Fair Park honoring the 343 fire fighters who died at the World trade Center, firefighter Chris Patterson will wear a memorial badge with Angel’s name and picture on it. He gave Alan last year’s badge, and it hangs on the market’s wall next to a picture of a guardian angel. In addition to the tattoo, Alan wears a silver bracelet engraved with Angel’s name.
Alan and Angel met during the summer of ’01 when they were competitors on the set of “Murder in a Small Town,” a reality show involving a fictitious unsolved murder. The contestants were required to unravel the mystery, and by the final episode, the field had been whittled to the blond Tennessean and the black-haired Puerto Rican. Juarbe prevailed, but a friendship bloomed, and the New York firefighter spent a long late summer weekend in Knoxville.
He fit right in at Vol Market # 3. He put on an apron and worked the grill. He sat out front on an upturned milk crate with speech-impaired Porter Jones, cracking jokes and striking up conversations with strangers. Alan gave him a crash course in East Tennessee life.
“He thought I was so country that my idea of a good time was cow tipping,” Frye said. “So, I figured the most redneck thing I could do was to take him to see a friend of mine, Jeff “Wild Man” Anderson, wrestle. When we walked in, Jeff hollered, ‘We don’t need no reality show stars in here! Take Old Juan Valdez and get back across the water.’”
They went to Big Ed’s Pizza, and dined with Alan’s parents, Charlotte and the late “Stormin’” Norman Frye, founder of Vol Market #3. On Sunday, Angel went to church with the family and asked the congregation to pray for firefighters.
“He was so precious,” Charlotte said. “He was a sweetheart, and a good-looking sweetheart at that. I loved him. He had dinner at our house and he went to church with us, and I wish you could have seen him – black dress pants, black silk shirt and that black hair! He turned heads.”
That was a scant two weeks before Sept. 11. It was tense at Vol Market #3 that day as they waited for word of their friend. The distraught Porter Jones suffered a stroke and did not recover.
“They both died that day,” Alan said.
Alan drove to New York to take part in the search, although it was days before Angel’s remains were found. He stayed in touch with the family a while, but eventually, Angel’s mother told him she just couldn’t do it anymore. She has since died. Alan remembers her caressing his arm after he showed her his new tattoo.
“Friends for life. I only knew him 34 days. I just didn’t know that a lifetime could be so short.”
Remembering an Angel
Editor’s Note: This story by Betty Bean was written shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, and published locally.
The big jar marked “Engine #3, Ladder 12,” on the counter of the Vol Market #3 on Western Avenue, is filling up with money. Behind the counter, a broken-hearted Alan Frye is talking about how he’s going to get a new tattoo.
Frye won $40,000 as runner-up in the Fox TV reality-based series “Murder in Small Town X.” He survived until the final episode, which came down to a contest between two likable young men – the easy-going blond Tennessean and a New York fireman of Puerto Rican descent with an incandescent smile.
The two became fast friends – Angel Juarbe nicknamed Frye “Country” and taught him to dance the salsa; Frye told Juarbe stories about his homies and invited him for a long weekend in Knoxville, much of which Juarbe spent sitting on an upturned milk crate (which he said was a New York tradition) out front of the Vol Market, sipping sweet tea, signing autographs and talking to folks.
One of the people Juarbe came to town to see was Porter Jones, a 60-year-old Vol Market regular who had been disabled by a stroke, and whose vocabulary was limited to what Frye describes as a few choice words. “Angel told me he wanted to come to Knoxville and meet Porter,” Frye said. Porter and Juarbe had their pictures taken together.
Two weeks ago, Juarbe collected his prizes – $250,000 and a Jeep Liberty. He gave the Jeep to his dad. He told everyone that he had no intention of quitting his job, which he loved.
On Sept. 11, Juarbe was on duty at the Chelsea Fire Station in lower Manhattan, just blocks from the World Trade Center. A Fox TV producer gives this account on the Fox website:
“Angel was helping to evacuate people from the twin towers when the tower he was in – the first of the two towers to fall – collapsed. He was – according to reports –anywhere from the first floor to the fifth floor.”
Juarbe’s company had been ordered out of the unstable building, but he went back to retrieve rappelling equipment, and he stayed to help some injured people who were trapped inside.
The producer says his lasting image of Angel is from an episode of the show when he scooped up a fellow cast member who had become hysterical after a stressful scene and carried her to safety.
“As she sobs, he soothes her panic by simply saying over and over, ‘It’s Angel. It’s Angel,’ and he carries her off to safety. In his career, how many times had Angel given comfort to strangers with those simple words?”
Back in Knoxville, as Bloody Tuesday wore on, Angel’s friends became more and more anxious as they heard reports of lost firefighters. Porter Jones, watching the TV coverage, suffered an aneurysm and died. It was that kind of terrible day.
“If I had to lose to anybody, it was an honor to lose to Angel Juarbe,” Frye said, of the reality TV show. “We built a real friendship.” Frye took his friend to Meadowview Baptist Church, where Juarbe left a visitor’s card asking for continued prayers “…for firemen across the country who risk their lives every day to help others.”
There is to be a memorial service for the rescue workers this weekend in New York City. The cast and crew from “Murder in Small Town X” will be there. Alan Frye will be sporting a new tattoo.
A halo encircling the numbers 911.