The sounds of a choir filtered softly through the air Tuesday as hundreds of NYPD officers lined up outside St. Francis de Sales Church in Patchogue for the grim duty of saluting their fallen comrade.
New York City Police Officer David Mahmoud, 49, of Medford, died Thursday of a rare nasal cancer his family and fellow officers believe he contracted from his work at Ground Zero.
The Rev. Edward J. Kealey of St. Sylvester's Church in Medford, the parish to which Mahmoud and his family belonged, urged the overflow crowd to rejoice over Mahmoud's life in his homily.
"He had a whole career as a police officer and then he was caught up in all the tragedies of Sept. 11," Kealey said after the service. "He did that very generously. As a result of doing that good, he contracted something nobody would ever have expected. He bore that with good humor and great grace."
Tuesday, officers wearing their dress blues saluted Mahmoud's coffin, which was draped in the green-and-white NYPD flag.
Mahmoud's wife, Bessie Mercado, and daughters Cynthia, 22, Ashley, 18, and Amber, 14, stood together, their faces pictures of grief as first the sounds of "Taps" filled the air, then a NYPD helicopter flew low over the gathering.
Outside the church, Mahmoud's brother Hashem Mahmoud said David Mahmoud was "beloved by all his colleagues."
"As you can see, the many police officers present here for the last couple of days, they all loved him," he said. "He's a very good man."
He said David Mahmoud's work at Ground Zero, which the PBA said began on the day of Sept. 11, caused his illness.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about whether Mahmoud's illness has officially been linked to his work at Ground Zero.
Linda Brown of East New York, who worked in administration in Mahmoud's precinct, recalled him as a dedicated officer who loved his wife and children.
"When he talked about his family, you could see the joy in his eyes," Brown said.
Brown said after Mahmoud fell ill, she and her colleagues would often pray with him over the telephone. "An angel went home to the Lord," she said.
NYPD PBA president Patrick Lynch said he canceled his plans to go to Washington Tuesday to lobby for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act so he could attend Mahmoud's funeral.
"I couldn't go to Washington today, because Sept. 11 is still today," Lynch said. "We're here in this church burying police officer David Mahmoud and all those names that will come."
Lynch said the fact that legislators are still debating the Zadroga bill nine years after the attack is "disgraceful."
Mahmoud, who served in the NYPD for 15 years, was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.