behind the fbi’s fight for justice as agents add to 9/11 death toll.
“The rain falls upon the just and the unjust.”
Those were the words of FBI Special Agent Bob Roth two weeks before he lost his 18-month battle with multiple myeloma in 2008. The 44-year-old would leave behind a wife, five children between the ages of 3-13, and a cause of death that would be debated for nearly a decade.
“There’s a balance of raising a family when you know that their dad probably died in the line of duty, even before it was declared,” said Bob’s wife, Tresa Roth. “Letting them grow up with a sense of pride in that, but not angry at the system.”
Roth was one of the first to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, assisting with evidence and human remains collection. He was also the first of 15 FBI agents who have since died from their exposure to toxins that day.
With only two percent of multiple myeloma cases found in people under the age of 40, doctors immediately connected the cluster of cancers to the exposure of pulverized concrete and burning jet fuel.
Despite the acknowledgment by medical experts, the Department of Labor failed to categorize the deaths as “in the line of duty” until 2016—leaving families like the Roth’s without any financial assistance.
“Being a single parent, homeschooling five kids, running a business from home and managing finances is all very taxing,” said Bob’s wife, Tresa Roth. “We make adjustments to live within our means and I can’t say we are hurting because I know there are a lot more people in a worse position.”
While Roth was the first FBI agent to pass away of such complications, Special Agent Wesley Yoo was the first to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2005. At only 36-years-old at the time, his case was doubly alarming considering the extremely low rates of multiple myeloma among the Asian community.
Over the next 10 years, Woo would courageously fight his diagnosis while fulfilling his duties as an agent despite pushback from the bureau.
On September 11, 2013—12 years to the day of his heroic actions that led to such a diagnosis— Woo received a letter from the FBI informing him that he was no longer fit to serve as an agent since he could no longer perform the 256 required essential fitness tests. As a result, they warned he would be removed from the walls of the bureau and converted into a support employee.
“The only thing he wanted to do was die an FBI Agent,” said friend and fellow first responder Scott Stanley.
Woo and Stanley had worked the evidence nightshift at the Pentagon together, where 85 percent of the human remains were discovered along with airplane voice recorders and the airline hijackers ID’s. As a former paramedic and firefighter who understood hazmat protocol, the link to the toxins they were exposed to and his friend’s sickness was obvious to Stanley. It wasn’t to others.
Three years later, at the age of 46, special agent Wesley Yoo also lost his battle to multiple myeloma, and fellow Pentagon first responders began campaigning the bureau to assist them in applying pressure to the department.
That 2013 memo served as a tipping point for Stanley and many other first responders who understood the unfairness of Woo’s predicament. Shortly after, a task force was formed under the leadership of Stanley, FBI Agents Association President Tom O’Connor (whom Stanley rode with to the Pentagon on 9/11) and former FBI Director James B. Comey.
Their mission: Force the Department of Labor to classify these deaths as a result of their job. The goal: Make sure families are fairly compensated for their loved one’s untimely deaths.
“Its hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not over a million, that’s on the table for these families that wouldn’t be if they weren’t recognized,” Stanley said.
Over the next year, equipped with research from the World Trade Center Health Program, the task force presented volumes of evidence that directly pointed to 9/11 as the cause for Roth and Yoo’s deaths.
With some of the sharpest minds in the scientific community— such as WTCHP Administrator Dr. John Howard— against them, the Department of Labor finally conceded in the fall of 2016 and began to provide financial compensation to families.
On May 14, 2017, nearly 15 years after flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, Bob Roth was recognized as being killed in the line of duty and his name was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall.
Three more agents have died in the past year and were the first to be automatically recognized as dying in the line of duty under the new system. According to the FBI Agents Association, 15 more agents are currently battling various cancers.
“We do dangerous things and people are willing to give up their lives for the job,” Stanley said. “What you expect in return is that your family will be taken care and won’t get kicked in the teeth or ignored.”
“It’s sad that its taken this many years to get these people recognized,” said O’Connor. “But the government works very slowly.”
As of June 30, 2018, 1,744 members of World Trade Center Health Program have died of what they categorize as a 9/11 related illness.
As the effects of that day still linger emotionally and for some, physically, Tresa Roth said her husband wouldn’t have changed a thing that day.
“I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking they are some victim,” she said. “I want them to grow up and have the same personality as Bob, and be willing to provide service to their country.”