A former Long Islander who retired as an NYPD sergeant was killed in Afghanistan, where he worked as a civilian contractor for NATO, the organization's military command said.
Kevin O'Rourke, 52, died Saturday under confusing circumstances during a patrol in the eastern province of Wardak. NATO and its Afghan allies are investigating whether the firefight, which also killed a NATO soldier, was another "insider attack" by an Afghan soldier or a misunderstanding when American troops mistook enemy fire for an insider attack.
A divorced father of two, O'Rourke left Central Islip after retiring from the NYPD in 2003 and was in the home renovation and landscaping business in central Florida when he decided about two years ago to use his police training in America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Kelly Hotz, his landscaping business partner and one of his best friends.
"He was just a patriot and wanted to be there with the guys to help out where he could," Hotz said. "We tried to talk him out of it, but he just wasn't going to change his mind."
O'Rourke had worked in the elite emergency service unit and the Queens troubleshooting task force, the NYPD said.
He once rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange in honor of his work as a policeman, Hotz said.
He loved his police job, his friend said, and one time, with a drug dealer hiding in a building, O'Rourke stuck his cap on the tip of his rifle and held it out. When the suspect shot the cap three times, he betrayed his position and was shot himself, said Hotz, who was given the cap.
O'Rourke also worked almost around the clock at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, a devastation that he constantly talked about, Hotz said, because he could not forget the images and the turmoil.
He left Suffolk for Citrus County in central Florida, where he parlayed side work on the Island as a home renovator into a new business, Floor Me, and also partnered with Hotz -- the man who built his new home in Hernando, Fla. -- in a company called Artistic Curbs, which uses high-end bricks and stone pavers to create landscaping designs.
O'Rourke had an artistic side, one that liked to design lawn and flower bed layouts, Hotz said.
O'Rourke volunteered in countries torn by natural disaster and helped local veterans, Hotz said. He also loved being with his son Kevin, 13, and daughter Katelyn, 15, taking them on trips, and going on long trips with Hotz on their Harley motorcycles.
"He was a very, very proud father," Hotz said, "and a great friend."
With Anthony M. DeStefano