Police officer John Perry filed his retirement papers on the morning of September 11, 2001. But when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, he accepted one more assignment. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile, which originally aired in 2002.

John Perry may likely be the most compelling police officer you'll ever meet, a man of amazingly diverse interests and passions who lived each day like it would be his last. September 11th was.

"I think that what John did was live for the moment," said Patricia Perry, John's mother. "He didn't say, 'Well, when I get older, I'm going to do this, or tomorrow, I'm going to do this.' He did what he wanted to do today. We never know what tomorrow's going to be. I don't think there was anything more he could have done."

On Sunday, September 9, Perry was helping Norman Siegel campaign for public advocate and told him he was leaving the police force.

"He said that he was getting his papers together and he was going to go the next day, which would have been September 10. I left him – which was the last time I saw him – on that Sunday night about 9:30 on 72nd and Columbus. I got out of the boat, the car, and said to him, 'Good luck tomorrow.' He didn't get his papers together," Siegel said.

Perry got his papers together on the 11th. He was at police headquarters downtown when the first plane hit. He immediately went to the World Trade Center to help.

Deputy Inspector Timothy Pearson was at the trade center on the 11th when he heard the voice of his old friend and colleague.

"That's when all hell broke loose," Pearson said. "That's when we started to hear what sounded like Niagara Falls coming down. Just, 'boom, boom, boom.' You heard the floors pancaking, but you also see outside, you could see the facade of the south tower starting to hit Battery Park City. And then the lights all went out."

The two friends were only a few feet apart. Pearson followed a light and made it to safety. Perry did not.

"I think about it sometimes, and I say to myself, 'Why me and why not some of the others?'" Pearson said.

"We had been calling since 9:30 on Tuesday morning trying to reach him because he always answered his cellphone, and we wanted to know where he was and if he knew what was going on. But we had no idea he was at the World Trade Center," Patricia Perry said.

Even a great novelist would have trouble creating a John Perry. He was an attorney, and then joined the New York City Police Department. He was a member of the New York State Guard and a board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"He was probably the only police officer who was a board member of the Civil Liberties Union," Patricia Perry said. "As you heard him speak, he believed very strongly that civil liberties is what police officers are supposed to be protecting. So he saw absolutely no conflict in being a police officer and a board member of the Civil Liberties Union."

He volunteered for the Kings County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He spoke French, Spanish, Swedish and Russian. And he appeared in movies, albeit briefly, like "Devil's Advocate."

At the family home on Long Island, there are plenty of tapes of John's cameo appearances on television shows like "One Life to Live."

Perry's achievements are all that much more remarkable because he grew up with a learning disability.

"My son did not recognize colors. He was unable to put letters together and make words and understand them. But he had a good mind and he could memorize what people told him and remember," Patricia Perry said. "So it was just a matter until something happened in his brain, the synapses got together and decided to connect, and he began to learn pretty quickly by the time he was nine or so. And he caught up and went ahead."

"I always wanted to be in law enforcement, ever since I was a little kid. And the law, being a lawyer just gave me more knowledge about what I was going to be facing out there in the justice community," John Perry himself said.

"He believed in the rule of law, and he wanted to build bridges between law enforcement community and the civil rights community, the police, communities of color and poor people communities," Siegel said.

Pearson worked with Perry earlier in his police career.

"John comes from a biracial family, and so therefore, they had to deal with a lot of social issues that many other families may not have had to deal with. And so from that standpoint, he got exposed early on in his life to different issues that maybe some families were not exposed to," Pearson said.

The only issue for John Perry on September 11th was to help as many people as possible, even on a day when he was planning to leave the force.

"Until this day, I always say, 'Goddammit, if he would have just gotten his papers together and filed it on the 10th,'" Siegel said. "And then you realize what September 11th has taught all of us. Even if you think you have control over a lot of things, you don't."

The family's pain is both private and public, in that they've spoken to people from all over the country about their son.

"John was a man who sought a lot of attention, who was involved in many things. We figured he needed all the publicity he could get, so we want him to be remembered," Patricia Perry said.

And he is, lovingly, passionately, by those who knew him from the very beginning, and others who feel privileged to have met this most unforgettable character along the journey.

"As you learn more about John, you will begin to realize that he was a very dynamic person, and that he's going to be sorely missed," Pearson said.

"We lost someone very special who had a talent, a skill to bring people together," Siegel said. "And when I get a little down, I kind of look up, remember John's smile, his personality, and I get going in a more positive way."

"He didn't let what other people thought direct his behavior," Patricia Perry said. "And most of us, somewhere along the line, we listen to what others say and think and we modify our behavior to meet expectations. I don't think he ever grew up. He just kept following his own star."

"For me, the path was always pretty clear. I wanted to be involved in justice, helping people to have their rights corrected and protected. And I think that ideally, in our free society, the police are real great protectors of individual rights," John Perry said.