BY ROBERT POZARYCKI AND TODD MAISEL
Too many of the 46 NYPD members who died of COVID-19 never received a proper, traditional funeral due to pandemic restrictions. But on Monday, the NYPD honored these victims of the virus and their loved ones with a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The Police Department took one of the heaviest hits as the COVID-19 pandemic tore through New York City. At the peak of the crisis, in mid-April, nearly 20% of the force wound up on sick leave. Most of the afflicted would recover.
Nevertheless, the department mourned the loss of 46 members due to the health crisis — including unpaid auxiliary officers, school safety agents, administrative aides and even a chief. Monday’s Mass sought to honor each of them who, as Police Commissioner Dermot Shea put it, “embodied the storied institutions and rich traditions of courage, dedication and service” to the city.
Shea and his wife Serena, along with other members of the NYPD brass — including First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker and Chief of Department Terrence Monahan — took part in the service along with Mayor Bill de Blasio, taking up the front pew of the church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the Archdiocese of New York, celebrated the Mass with his colleague Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.
De Blasio recognized the varied work and dedication of the 46 NYPD members lost to COVID-19. They died at a time when the virus raged through the city, and life was brought to a halt amid a struggle to stop the spread and save lives.
“Every single one of these individuals served on the front lines of this crisis, all in different ways,” de Blasio said,” and they all put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. They all showed up when it wasn’t easy to do, and that is what the NYPD does every single day.”
The mayor offered also a special tribute to the late Chief of Transportation William Morris, who succumbed to COVID-19 on June 6 at the age of 61. Morris was a three-star chief who rose through the departmental ranks, and got to know the mayor while serving as commander of Patrol Borough Manhattan South.
“What I noticed time and time again about Chief Morris is that he had the same approach every day — to stay calm no matter what,” de Blasio remembered. “He had this knowing smile of someone who had been through it all and was ready for anything. He kept his wits about him and he made everyone else feel better with his presence.”
Morris was the highest-ranking NYPD member to die of coronavirus, Shea said. The other victims from the department included a police officer, six detectives, three communications technicians, three custodial assistants, three auxiliary officers, 13 school safety agents, 10 traffic enforcement agents, a principal administrative associate, a police administrative aide and a senior police administrative aide.
They were victims of an international crisis that has claimed more than a million lives worldwide, including 200,000 in the United States, Shea remarked.
“But the figures represent so much more,” an emotional Shea said. “They represent real lives, real people — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — who have left behind devastate families and unfinished legacies. People who, were it not for the coronavirus, would have been with us today, and nothing we can say here can convey such a loss.”
Shea reminded the crowd that the NYPD would not forget the contributions of the 46 colleagues lost to COVID-19, and would forever honor their memory.
“We will forge ahead, we will persevere, and we will continue to vow to never forget our loved ones, your loved ones,” he said. “Our friends and colleagues who inspired us, who loved us and our city, who we adored back, and who we will miss immensely.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said they were honored to do the mass. See video:
Families were equally emotional about the loss of their loved ones to the contagion.
“It’s really hard to be here,” said Catherine Abear, who’s husband detective Raymond Abear of the Queens Special Victim’s Squad died on April 13 of COVID-19. Abear had her two children, Jackson turning 3, and her 10-month old daughter Stella in her arms.
“It was in the height of it, so everybody was getting it,” Abear recalled. “I think my son has an idea, but he’s very young, he doesn’t really understand. It was just really hard.”
Janie Poullard, the sister-in-law to traffic enforcement agent Richard Austin, 66, a father of two grown children, who died on April 9, recalled a dedicated public servant who enjoyed going to work each day.
“He and my sister were married 38 years and he was a great addition to our family,” Poullard said. “He loved the holidays and the celebration – he always had a smile, he was very popular with the traffic enforcement agents – he always went to work early and when they needed somebody extra to drive he was there. This makes us feel good – it gives us some satisfaction that they recognize the loss we suffered, but also the loss to the city – he was a good citizen and good for our community.”
Anna Santiago, lost her husband George Santiago, a school safety agent on May 6 – he tested positive on a Thursday and was dead in a week. Her entire family attended including two sons Kevin and Marcus from Park Slope.
“There was some comfort in being around others who suffered the same,” Santiago said. Her sister Chelsea Palima however was frustrated that some people still don’t wear masks saying, “It’s frustrating – it really is. Some believe it’s not real, but some of them don’t know there’s a lot of pain it takes to lose someone you love so much.”
Police Officer Richardo Roman, was comforting his mother who lost her husband and his father, Ramon Roman, 52, an auxiliary police officer from Crown Heights to COVID-19.
“He was one of the first ones, he caught it about mid-march and he had it for three weeks, but his body just pretty much gave up,” Officer Roman said of his father who had diabetes and high blood pressure. “pretty much my whole family got it, but thankfully we all survived it, except for my father. It’s a tough time for us – for all of us.”
PBA President Patrick Lynch joined the families of those lost to the virus and greeted Rabbi Joseph Kass, the chief rabbi for the department at the church who was one of those who read the names of those who succumbed.
“It’s important to be here today because it’s such a crazy time, we couldn’t come together as we always do and stand pat to pat for our police officers, our traffic agents,” Lynch said. “It’s important today to continue to send that message. even though we are in odd times, we still will come together in respect for those who went before us.”