It took 19 years, but the LAPD finally thanked Mike Kubeisy on Tuesday.
Like the other residents of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, Kubeisy was jolted awake early on the morning of Jan. 17, 1994, as the Northridge earthquake rocked the region. The building partially collapsed, killing 16 people and trapping many others, including LAPD Officer Joseph Jordan and his wife.
Kubeisy, 32 at the time, crawled out of his third-floor apartment through a gaping crack that had opened in the wall, then went in search of people to help.
After dangling over a railing to pull a trapped elderly man out through a window, Kubeisy recalled, he pounded on the door to Jordan's apartment. He heard the officer shouting from inside but found the door jammed. Kubeisy went back to his own apartment, grabbed a large pair of pliers and used them to pry open Jordan's door.
He found Jordan on the other side holding a lighted candle. With gas leaking from broken pipes, Kubeisy quickly blew the flame out. Jordan went off into the darkness and helped save several people that morning. Kubeisy, too, spent the morning making rescues.
Although police officials heralded Jordan, awarding him its Police Star medal for his "exceptional bravery," Kubeisy's heroics went unnoticed. Kubeisy said he didn't much care about the omission since he came away from the tragedy with a much bigger silver lining: He ended up marrying the last woman he rescued that morning.
Kubeisy, a photographer, would have remained an anonymous footnote to the disaster had it not been for a chance conversation with a friend, who asked how he met his wife. After hearing the whole story, the friend alerted the L.A. Police Commission.
Tuesday morning, the commission made amends. "It's never too late to say, 'Thank you,'" said commission President Andrea Ordin.
Kubeisy said he appreciated the commission's gesture but doesn't think of himself as a hero.
"I'm not a hero. My friends needed help and I helped them," he said. "It's not, 'How does it feel to be a hero?' The question is, 'How would it have felt if I had turned my back on those people that night?' I wouldn't want to have to live with that."