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Mourners remember NYPD officer killed in shooting


                                New York Police officers gather along Fifth Avenue for the funeral of Officer Jason Rivera, Friday, outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.


    New York Police officers gather along Fifth Avenue for the funeral of Officer Jason Rivera, Friday, outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

NEW YORK >> A sea of blue stretched down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Friday, as thousands of police officers gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to bid farewell to Detective Jason Rivera a week after he was killed responding to a domestic disturbance call in Harlem.

Rivera’s death just 14 months after he joined the Police Department made him a symbol of the city’s hope and fears at a moment fraught with uncertainty about its future.

A son of Dominican immigrants, he had fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a police officer during the pandemic as rising crime and the police killing of George Floyd roiled the city and strained his profession.

Mayor Eric Adams, in his eulogy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said that Rivera joined the department for the right reasons — to make change from within — and that his death was a reminder of what officers put on the line each day. He vowed to combat the “senseless violence” that led to the deaths of Rivera and his partner.

“You stand in the gap of safety,” Adams said. “And these two fine men watered the tree of safety and allowed us to sit under this shade from the hot sun of violence. You play a vital role in the prosperity of this city.”

The concerns over public safety were underscored in remarks by Rivera’s widow, Dominique Luzuriaga, who singled out the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, in her tearful eulogy.

“The system continues to fail us,” she said. “We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service. I know you were tired of these laws, especially from the new DA. I hope he’s watching you speak through me right now.”

Since taking office this month, Bragg has adopted policies aimed at reducing incarceration but toughened his stance on guns after pushback from police.

Bragg, who attended the funeral, said in a statement afterward that he was grieving for the slain officers and their families, adding that his office will “vigorously prosecute cases of violence against police.”

Rivera and his partner, Wilbert Mora, were fatally shot Jan. 21 by Lashawn McNeil, who surprised them from behind a bedroom door. McNeil was mortally wounded by a rookie officer, Sumit Sulan.

For many officers, the killings were a reminder of the heightened danger of domestic violence calls and doorways they cannot see behind.

Rivera was remembered as a loving son and a hard worker, whose sense of humor belied a laser focus and a relentless drive to help people.

Before joining the Police Department, he worked with his older brother, Jeffrey, at a pharmacy. Jeffrey Rivera described how, without being asked, his brother would load his backpack full of medications for older patients and deliver them on his bicycle.

“This kid was just out of this world,” Rivera, said. “My brother was dedication; he was the definition of integrity. He was joy.”

The officer, who was known to his family as Tata, had been passionate about cop shows since he was a child, wresting control of the television to watch them. Family members tried to talk him out of becoming a police officer, but nothing would change his mind.

He entered the Police Academy in November 2020, months after the city had been rocked by social-justice protests sparked by the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police officers.

“No matter how broken we are, how empty we feel, we get strength from knowing that God put a burning desire in my brother’s heart, and he said yes,” Rivera said. He added that despite Jason Rivera’s many fears — of heights, rats and dogs — he “wasn’t afraid to die to wear that uniform.”

Rivera and Luzuriaga, whom he met in elementary school, had been married only since October. She recalled telling him she loved him so many times that he grew tired of responding that he loved her more.

Luzuriaga wept as she described her regret over having argued with the man she called her “big spoon” on the last morning of his life. The demands of policing sometimes strained their young marriage, leading to canceled plans and days without seeing each other.

On most days, he drove her home and gave her three kisses before heading to work. But that day, a Friday, she called an Uber.

“You asked me: ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you home? It might be the last ride I ever give you,’ ” she said. “And that was the probably the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Later, when news broke that two officers had been shot in Harlem, she texted him to see if he was OK. When he did not respond, she tracked his cellphone to the hospital on West 135th Street. She reached out to his friends who were officers and was again met with silence.

Then she received a call from someone who asked if she was his wife and told her she needed to hurry to the hospital. As she ascended the hospital steps, she said she felt scared and alone as people stared at her.

Then she saw her husband, draped in hospital sheets. She could not wake him up.

His funeral drew officers from as far as New Hampshire, Virginia and the United Arab Emirates, and an overflow crowd listened to the service outside St. Patrick’s.

D.K. Singleton, 58, a retired New York City police officer, was among those who converged on the cathedral.

“I came out today because when anyone else passes away in law enforcement, that hits home because it could be any one of us,” said Singleton, who served on the force for 20 years.

Rivera’s colleagues in the 32nd Precinct had made the journey to the cathedral before dawn Friday, walking past a memorial in front of the precinct station that included a toy police cruiser, candles and balloons.

He had been assigned to the Harlem command in May and was so excited that he double-parked in front of the station house, causing a traffic jam and sending the desk sergeant into a frenzy, Inspector Amir Yakatally, the precinct’s commanding officer, said.

His supervisors quickly took note of the rookie who showed up to work early and signed up for any assignment that got him out on the street. Yakatally said they predicted that he would do well.”Jason wanted to be out there, really doing the job and interacting with the public,” Yakatally said. “He would volunteer for any assignment and step up and take the dirtiest jobs and most difficult tasks given, just for the chance to learn and serve.”

Rivera was one of the youngest officers to die in the line of duty, the same age as Officer Edward R. Byrne, who was shot and killed in 1984, as he guarded the Queens home of a witness in a drug case.

Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell, in a eulogy that was her first major public address since becoming commissioner less than a month ago, praised Rivera and promoted him from an officer to the highest detective rank.

“This has always been a city of lights, and police officer Jason Rivera was one of the brightest,” she said.

Acknowledging the tragedy of his and Mora’s deaths, she issued a warning to criminals.

“Those who seek to dim the beacons of hope across these five boroughs, look outside,” she said. “Hear our voice. See the presence in this cathedral. The NYPD will never give up this city. We will always prevail.”

Outside, a phalanx of police officers stood shoulder to shoulder as wet snow dusted the sidewalks. A fire truck hoisted a large American flag over Fifth Avenue.

After the service ended, Rivera’s coffin, draped with an American flag, was carried out of the cathedral. An officer folded the flag, and, as officers saluted, handed it to Luzuriaga, who pressed it to her chest and closed her eyes. She ran her left hand along the flag and began to cry.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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