Mourners Remember N.Y.P.D. Officer Killed in Shooting: ‘He Was Joy’

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.

Detective 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 Detective 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 Detective Rivera and his partner.

“You stand in the gap of safety,” Mr. 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 somber occasion was a pivotal moment for the mayor, whose efforts to lead the city out of the pandemic have been challenged by a wave of violent crime, including four police shootings.

He has outlined a plan to combat gun violence that calls for more aggressive policing, better coordination between city agencies and violence intervention organizations, increased mental-health services and the tightening of state bail and youth-prosecution laws.

The concerns over public safety were underscored in remarks by Detective 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 D.A. I hope he’s watching you speak through me right now.”

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

Mr. 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.”

Detective Rivera and his partner, Wilbert Mora, were fatally shot on Jan. 21 by Lashawn McNeil, who surprised them from behind a bedroom door. Mr. 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.

Detective 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. Mr. Rivera described how, without being asked, his brother would load his backpack full of medications for older patients and deliver them on his bicycle.

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“This kid was just out of this world,” Jeffrey Rivera, said. “My brother was dedicated, 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,” Jeffrey Rivera said. He added that despite Detective Rivera’s many fears — of heights, rats and dogs — he “wasn’t afraid to die to wear that uniform.”

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

Ms. 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.

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