Lt. Michael P. Shea never had the “cop special” for lunch — a cheeseburger and fries — said retired Nassau County police officer John Guilfoyle. Shea went for a run instead. And each day, he would try to persuade Guilfoyle and his fellow officers from the 8th Precinct to join him.
Guilfoyle said he was surprised when Shea was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015. Guilfoyle just couldn’t fathom how someone as healthy as Shea would be the one to succumb to a Sept. 11-related illness, he said.
Shea died on April 1, 2017, as a result of his work as a police officer. He was one of eight officers in Nassau County who became ill and died as a result of their work at or near the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Shea, who was 52 when he died, was ordered to go to what was then known simply as the pile to direct traffic the night of Sept. 11. His job was to keep onlookers off the site as rescue workers searched for survivors. In his first four days there, he worked for no fewer than 14 hours a day.
His wife, Ingrid Morales, said her husband said little when he returned to their Oyster Bay home after his first shift. “When he came home, he took off his uniform, put it near the door and said don’t touch it,” she said. “He said it was contaminated. He wore it the next day when he went back to ground zero. It was unusual, because Mike always kept his shoes and his uniform clean.”
Morales met Shea on a blind date in Manhattan in 1993. She said they hit it off immediately. Shea was a gentleman, Morales said, who loved to talk about his job as a Long Island police officer. As she got to know him, she realized that his colleagues valued Shea as much as she did. Barbecues were frequent, as were parties. The Police Department was his second family, Morales said.
Guilfoyle, who is retired and moved to upstate New York seven years ago, said Shea was dependable, the kind of man who would help even if it was his day off. Before he was a police officer, Shea was an electrician. Guilfoyle said his friend of 25 years often did side work.
“He didn’t want to make money off people,” Guilfoyle said. “He just liked helping his friends out. I know people say this a lot about someone when they die, but with Mike it was really true: He was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Morales and Shea married on Aug. 24, 1997. The next day they moved to the hamlet of Oyster Bay. At the time he was working in the NCPD’s 8th Precinct, where he stayed for 17 years before being transferred to the 6th Precinct for nine years. In 2015 he became a lieutenant. For the remainder of his service in the department, Morales said, Shea worked for the 3rd Precinct.
Retired Sgt. David Brehm worked with Shea at the 6th Precinct, where the two were supervisors. But they had met long before that. Shea and Brehm had gone to elementary school together in Seaford, and then to Levittown’s General Douglas MacArthur High School. They had the same friends growing up, Brehm said, although he was a year younger than Shea.
“Mike was a great kid, very hard working and very handy,” said Brehm, who now lives in Suffolk County. “He’d come to your house and worked for days, and you’d have to have a fight with him to let him pay you. He always took the short end of the stick as a police officer. He would always say he would do something that no one else wanted to do.”
Which was why he never questioned his orders to report to ground zero, Morales said. Shea always wanted to help.
When Brehm’s children were younger. Shea insisted on working for his friend when needed. Shea would even volunteer to be in charge of a parade, Brehm said. “‘You take off,’ he would say,” Brehm recalled. “‘I’ll take care of it.’ Ninety percent of people would say no. He knew it was good for my family for me to be there.”
Shea began showing symptoms on Aug. 10, 2015. He was having headaches, so he went to the doctor. Morales said the doctor thought the headaches were due to allergies. But when they persisted, Shea underwent an MRI at Glen Cove Hospital. Then he went to North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital for more tests. He was told he had a brain tumor, and it was terminal.
Shea had brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and experienced seizures. During the 20 months that he was sick, Morales never left his side.
“Michael was surprised that he got sick from 9/11,” Morales said. “It was a wake-up call for everyone.”
Brehm said he was shocked when he heard about Shea’s diagnosis. “This was a guy that was in the gym every day without fail. He ate a salad with grilled chicken for lunch,” Brehm said. “It was so unfair that this happened to a guy like Mike.”
Shea was a union trustee for the Nassau County Police Superior Officers Association. He represented 20 supervisors from the 6th Precinct. Sgt. Ricky Frassetti, the president of the organization, said he has a place in his heart for the Oyster Bay community. He was a sergeant for 10 years in the 2nd Precinct. Frassetti described Shea as “soft-spoken, polite, gentle, with a witty sense of humor.” He represented his members well, Frassetti said, and wa a leader in the Police Department.
“Mike was well liked and respected by everyone he dealt with,” Frassetti said. “He gave his life for the people of Nassau County and the country.”
After her husband died, Morales said, she wanted to help others. She started the Nassau County 911 First Responders Spouses and Family Support Group in 2019, after receiving permission from county Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Members keep in contact with one another and provide information for those seeking support.
The group raises funds for scholarships for students that go to the same high schools as the late police officers. Three seniors from MacArthur High receive $500 scholarships in Shea’s name each year.
Morales said she has never been to the hamlet’s Sept. 11 ceremony, but she plans to go this year. Her husband’s name is not yet listed among the other heroes from the Town of Oyster Bay who died either on Sept. 11 or from illnesses afterward. Morales said she has been promised that Shea’s name will be added soon, and that a street may be named after him too.
“Michael could have said no when he was told to go to ground zero,” she said, “but he did what he was told. He always wanted to be a part of helping his brothers and sisters in the Police Department. What he saw on Sept. 11 he kept to himself.”