Everett Man Who Had Ground Zero Flag Comes Forward

Seattle Times - September 29, 2016

by Jessica Lee Seattle Times staff reporter

New details have emerged to describe how the celebrated American flag that firefighters raised amid the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, made its way to Everett.

On Tuesday, the city’s police department announced that investigators had confirmed the identity of the Everett man who turned the flag over to Everett firefighters in 2014, without for sure knowing its special significance, and that he retraced the flag’s route from New York City to Washington state.

Following widespread media coverage this month of the flag’s mysterious journey across the country, Brian Browne said he contacted firefighters to connect the dots. On Sept. 8, the flag went on display at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, nearly 15 years after the attacks, prompting the publicity.

“I read the news story, and knew right away it was about the flag I had returned two years prior,” he wrote in a statement for detectives.

The flag gained its initial recognition after three firefighters removed it and its pole from the Star of America, a yacht that had been moored on the Hudson River. A photographer for a newspaper in northern New Jersey captured the moment when it was raised at Ground Zero. After flying there, what was believed to be the flag was unfurled at Yankee Stadium and on naval ships in the Middle East before returning to City Hall in 2002, The New York Times reported. But it turned out it was not the right one.

The real flag’s whereabouts was not known until 2014, when Browne dropped the flag off at the Everett fire station. In a recent statement, he recalled not wanting “a reward or any publicity,” and he just left his first name and city of residence before leaving.

The lack of details on the Everett man created an obstacle for investigators to fully piece together the mystery.

But in the statement, the Everett man, describing himself as a collector, filled in some gaps.

Browne said he believes an unidentified woman who grew up in Washington state received a collection of items, including several flags, from a friend in 2006, after that friend transported the items from New York City. The woman with Washington-state connections then passed them to a friend of Browne’s.

In 2006, Browne and that friend looked over the items during a Veteran’s Day gathering. A grocery bag with the flags had masking tape around it with the message “9/11/2001 flags.” The friend then gave Browne two of the flags, one 6-feet-by 10 feet and another 3 feet by 5 feet, Browne recalled.

The Everett man stored them with his other flags and memorabilia, the statement says.

“The 9/11 flag was kept in the same storage trunk for six years, and then put in my freezer for two years to preserve it with my wool World War II flags,” Browne said.

While watching an episode of “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” in November 2014 on the missing Ground Zero flag, Browne noticed that one in his freezer looked similar to the one on the show. He ran downstairs to the freezer, paused the television and compared the two flags.

“I had a sickening feeling inside that this flag must be the one,” he said. “It also had a burnt rubber/cement smell to it and a very strong energy about it, like a battle flag.”

That’s when he took it to Fire Station No. 1 in Everett. Firefighters there agreed the two flags looked alike. Two years later, Browne went back to the same fire station after he realized that investigators were looking for him.

This time, though, he gave his name and contact information for follow-up, he said.

“My only wish is that it never leaves its beautiful custom case,” he said of the flag’s current display in New York City. “It has too much sentimental value, and in my opinion is a very sacred piece to be shared and shown at the museum, never to leave hallowed ground.”