37-year N.J. police officer who provided aid after 9-11 terrorist attacks passes away

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The Paterson Police Department is mourning a 37-year officer who died Sunday morning.

Capt. John Phelan, 58, died at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, according to a statement from the police department provided by Director Jerry Speziale.

The statement said he experienced medical complications at the hospital. Additional information was not immediately available.

Paterson Mayor André Sayegh said that Phelan was the longest-serving of the approximately 400 police officers in the department.

“Captain Phelan followed in his father’s footsteps and became a valued leader in the police department. I’m going to miss the laughs we had together. He was known for his sense of humor. He was also a storyteller,” Sayegh said.

Phelan, a Clifton resident, had extensive family ties to the police department in New Jersey’s third-largest city.

Phelan was married to Paterson Police Deputy Chief Lourdes (Mercado) Phelan, his wife of 15 years. His late father, Jack Phelan, was a lieutenant when he retired from the department.

Police Capt. Patrick Murray, of the special investigations division, grew up with Phelan and their fathers were officers in the police department at the same time.

“This is the only job we ever thought of doing. John touched more people than any of us will ever know and I am proud to call him my friend,” Murray said in the statement provided by the police department.

Phelan started in June 1984 as a police officer. He was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and, in his final role, to captain of the patrol division. He was previously assigned to the narcotics division, detective bureau and patrol division.

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Phelan was among those assisting at the World Trade Center site.

The police department said Phelan “was known for his vast knowledge, and equal desire to share that with everyone throughout the department, regardless of rank.”

“John was equally known as a humble, dedicated, community-oriented, public servant, who was always genuinely kind to everyone he met. One of John’s many gifts was his openness and ability to help and communicate with people, one he would routinely utilize to help enhance public safety,” concluded the police statement.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Sayegh said on Monday that the city is “planning for something very special” with his services.

This story has been updated with comments from Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

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Rob Jennings may be reached at [email protected].