STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Just in front of Friday's eighth anniversary of 9/11, two families of World Trade Center victims got a jolt when a homeless woman was arrested for allegedly using a metal pipe to vandalize their loved ones' plaques on the "Postcards" memorial in St. George.
Kathryn Cronin, 56, was arrested at 8:49 a.m. Monday after allegedly striking the memorial panels of Matthew Diaz, a carpenter's union employee, and Thomas Sparacio, a broker for Euro Brokers, said District Attorney Daniel Donovan.
Donovan called the incident, which caused an estimated $1,500 in damage, "a crime against the memory of every victim" depicted on the memorial.
"While we have no reason to believe this incident is anything but the actions of one alleged vandal, the timing is certainly ironic, as we begin a week where we pause to remember the thousands of our family, friends and heroes who perished on that tragic day eight years ago," he said.
Ms. Cronin's attorney, Mario Gallucci of Helbock, Nappa and Gallucci, said his client denies the allegations.
He said that Ms. Cronin, whose last given address was in York, Pa., has been living in a park near the memorial for the last four months and that he has ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
According to Donovan, Ms. Cronin was spotted by witnesses striking the memorial with the pipe at approximately 8:30 a.m. Following a 911 call from witnesses, NYPD officers from the 120th Precinct stationhouse responded to the scene and placed Ms. Cronin under arrest.
One of those witnesses was former FDNY firefighter Charles Frizziola of Westerleigh, who retired out of Rescue Co. 5 in Concord in 1999 after 20 years on the job.
Rescue 5 lost 11 men on Sept. 11.
"Friday is 9/11, and she's there smashing the faces," said Frizziola. "It upset me greatly. It just wasn't right."
Frizziola said he and his wife, Regina, were on their way to Manhattan on Monday when they stopped at the memorial.
"I was down there to say a prayer and say hello to my buddies," he said.
After witnessing the incident, Frizziola said he called 911, and joined officers in their patrol car as they searched for the vandal. He said he pointed out Ms. Cronin to them and they placed her under arrest.
Ms. Cronin was arraigned yesterday afternoon in Stapleton Criminal Court, Stapleton, on a charge of criminal mischief in the third degree, a Class E felony, punishable by a maximum of four years in prison, said Donovan's spokesman William Smith.
Gallucci said Ms. Cronin claims she was asleep in the park near the memorial when she was awakened by police and arrested.
She was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, Manhattan, for evaluation after being arraigned. The attorney said he ordered the evaluation after learning that Ms. Cronin had undergone a similar exam after being charged with attempted menacing in Manhattan in 2007.
Gallucci said that at that time, Ms. Cronin was found "incapacitated due to mental disease" and unfit to proceed with the case, which eventually was dismissed.
Gallucci said the results of the new psychiatric evaluation would be known on Oct. 8, when Ms. Cronin is due back in court.
"I'm going to withhold judgment on this person," said Borough President James P. Molinaro, whose office funded the $2.7 million memorial. "She could be sick, or may have lost a loved one. Let's find out what happened first."
Molinaro said the Diaz and Sparacio plaques will be replaced using the same type of stone as the originals.
"It's just sad," said Dennis McKeon of the Where-To-Turn advocacy group, which works with 9/11 families. "You would hope that somebody wouldn't be doing something malicious on purpose, especially with the anniversary coming up."
Said Gallucci, "If this had happened at any other time, or didn't involve the 9/11 memorial, it certainly wouldn't generate this amount of public attention or interest."
"Postcards," which will be the site of a 9/11 memorial service on Friday at 6 p.m., contains 274 plaques in honor of Islanders who perished in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
TAG: Advance staff writer Frank Donnelly contributed to this report.
Tom Wrobleski is the Advance political editor. Read his polit.bureau blog at http://blog.silive.com/politics.