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Before Charles Kasper headed out to the World Trade Center, he had his wife relay a message to their daughter, who had just witnessed the chaos from a park in the area that became known as Ground Zero.
"Tell Melissa and my most precious grandson, Dylan, that I will be up for them as soon as I put this fire out," were the chief's last words, before he headed out of his West Brighton home.
Melissa Friedman, her husband, Mark, and their 18-month-old son, Dylan, were soon evacuated from their apartment in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Kasper, 54, who was promoted to deputy chief of Manhattan's Special Operations Command five days after the Sept. 11 attack, is listed among the missing victims.
Sept. 11 started like any ordinary day in the Kasper household. But everything changed with the flip of a dial after Laureen Kasper turned on the morning news, where images of a burning Tower 1 were flashing across the screen. She began screaming and her husband ran into the room, trying to calm her. Within minutes, she was on the phone with a panicked Melissa, and her husband's pager started buzzing.
Mrs. Kasper told her husband she didn't want to see any daring rescues on the news that day. As he raced out of the house, he told her that everything would be fine and made sure she told Melissa that he would come for her as soon as possible.
"He was a great guy," Mrs. Kasper said. "He was involved with so many teams and was always working with kids. We were both teachers and he was always talking about taking kids and making something happen with their lives."
Mr. Kasper began his career teaching history and English and coaching basketball in Brooklyn schools from 1968 to 1973. As his family grew to include three children, he made the career move to the Fire Department.
He served as chief of Battalion 23 in Great Kills and Battalion 21 in Rosebank before moving to the Special Operations Command in Manhattan. In 1993, he responded to the World Trade Center bombing as a member of Manhattan's Rescue Co. 1.
Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen announced Mr. Kasper's promotion at a ceremony on Sept. 16, where 168 members of the department were elevated to fill leadership roles left vacant by victims of the attack.
"He announced his promotion at the ceremony even though he was considered missing," Mrs. Kasper said. "He made quite a career out of it. He moved through the ranks so quickly. He loved his job. That's why he raced in from home." Mr. Kasper kept true to his teaching roots, working as an instructor in the Fire Department. But his first love and his first priority were always his family, which also includes his daughter, Kara Kasper, 26, and son, Michael, 17, a senior on Curtis High School's basketball team.
He was always on the sidelines or coaching his son's basketball games. He was involved in all his children's activities and relished his new role as grandfather.
"He loved his family," Mrs. Kasper said. "He was so happy to be a granddaddy." The duo of Charles and Laureen was formidable on the tennis court, participating in the Walker Park Mixed Doubles Tournament for several years. "He was a great tennis player," Mrs. Kasper said. "Everyone knew Charlie as a great tennis player."
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Kasper moved to West Brighton with his wife, the former Laureen Roman, 30 years ago. The two met on a train on the way to their respective Brooklyn high schools and have been together ever since. He earned a degree in business from Long Island University.
"He was so proud of his family," Mrs. Kasper said. "The only thing that helps now is that we are all staying together."