New details have emerged to describe how the celebrated U.S. 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, and that he had traced the flag’s route from New York City to Washington state.
His name is Brian Browne, he lives in Everett, and he collects flags and other memorabilia. For at least two years, the 9/11 flag resided in his freezer.
Following widespread media coverage this month of the flag’s mysterious journey across the country, Browne said he contacted firefighters to connect the dots.
“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 first became famous 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, a flag believed to be the same 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 left the Everett man something of a mystery.
But in the statement Browne 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 brought them 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.
On Sept. 8, the flag went on display at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, nearly 15 years after the attacks.
“My only wish is that it never leaves its beautiful custom case,” Browne 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.”