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Long Island

Widow Pei Xia Chen: Slain officer Wenjian Liu 'was my hero'

NYPD officers carry the coffin of Det. Wenjian

NYPD officers carry the coffin of Det. Wenjian Liu Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, from a funeral home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Burial followed in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Credit: Craig Ruttle

A Brooklyn neighborhood fell silent Sunday afternoon as a grieving widow, holding Officer Wenjian Liu's photograph, wept while six fellow officers carried the body of the man she called her "hero" into a waiting hearse.

More than 25,000 officers -- from the NYPD and around the country -- stood 15 deep for blocks in the Dyker Heights neighborhood to honor and remember Liu, 32, one of two NYPD officers murdered execution-style in their patrol car last month.

Hundreds of those officers turned their backs to the large-screen video feeds of Mayor Bill de Blasio eulogizing Liu before other officials and family members spoke.

The hourlong ceremony combined Buddhist customs with those of a traditional Western funeral.

"The wonderful man that he is, that many of you know as 'Joe' at work, to me, he is my soul mate," Pei Xia Chen, Liu's wife of nearly three months, said as she stood in front of a wall of flowers inside the Aievoli Funeral Home.

Chen, who is known as Sandy, broke down in tears while saying farewell to her husband. She called him "an incredible husband, son, co-worker and friend."

Liu, a seven-year NYPD veteran who started as an unpaid volunteer auxiliary officer, and Rafael Ramos, 40, who joined the force in 2012, were ambushed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who shot them near a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project the afternoon of Dec. 20. Brinsley killed himself in a nearby subway station minutes later, police said.

Liu, the first Chinese-American NYPD officer to be slain in the line of duty, and Ramos were posthumously promoted to detective first grade.

The shootings heightened tensions among the police and minority communities already emotionally raw from a grand jury decision in December to not indict an NYPD officer in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner. NYPD union officials blamed de Blasio for Liu's and Ramos' deaths, saying he should have more strongly backed the city's police.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton last week issued a memo urging officers to refrain from demonstrating against the mayor at Liu's funeral, which he said should be "about grieving, not grievance." Hundreds had turned their backs on de Blasio at Ramos' funeral on Dec. 27.

De Blasio, who said in eulogizing Liu that "all of our city is heartbroken today," called for "mutual understanding" and "living in harmony."

"Let us move forward by strengthening the bonds that unite us," he said.

De Blasio, Bratton and FBI Director James B. Comey offered anecdotes about Liu as told to them by family members, including his love for fishing, and words of encouragement and support for law enforcement. Recalling the 115 police officers killed in the United States in the past year, Comey grimly denounced it as a "shocking increase" from 2013.

'Brought pride and honor'

Bratton praised Liu's commitment to being part of the NYPD.

"Officer Liu believed in the possibility of making a safer world," Bratton said. "All cops do."

Bratton recounted Liu's life with his family as they left their native China when he was 12. Described as a boy who helped his family when he could, Liu was on a path to becoming an accountant when the 9/11 terror attacks occurred.

"Some people witnessed that horrible day and were paralyzed," Bratton said. "Det. Liu witnessed it and saw the possibility of service, the possibility of being part of something that would help others."

Liu's father, Wei Tang Liu, spoke in Cantonese, breaking down during and after his tribute to his only son, recalling that he would help his father finish his work and had taken his parents on his honeymoon. Cousins also spoke, with one saying Liu "brought pride and honor to our family."

Officials from Long Island, including Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, Nassau County acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter and First Deputy County Executive Rob Walker also attended the ceremony.

Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said about 550 of his members attended the funeral, while Suffolk County PBA president Noel DiGerolamo estimated more than 400 of the union's officers attended.

"This was a young man who lost his life far too young," Mangano said of Liu. "He put his life before others and made sure we have a society where we can practice all we believe in."

Tensions linger, some say

King, who has publicly chastised de Blasio in recent weeks, said the mayor has a chance to unite the city and heal the wounds left with the NYPD after the assassinations "tore a wound open for the city."

But some New York residents and police officers from other parts of the country said the widespread damage would be slow to repair.

"We're feeling it out here in our community also. It's nationwide," said Dan Vierra, a police officer from Ceres, California. "We feel it's important for us to show our solidarity with the NYPD."

Lorraine Sarutto, 67, of Dyker Heights, said she blamed de Blasio for creating more racial tensions between the NYPD and those in the neighborhood, but felt assured police officers know the public has their support. "I think they know we stand behind them," she said.

Long, somber procession

The sea of police in blue dress uniforms and white gloves remained in the streets after the service, standing at attention, hugging each other or wiping tears while the family was left alone to say goodbye to Liu.

Bells rang, and a color guard, city and police leaders, and the thousands of officers watched as the coffin -- draped in a green, blue and white NYPD flag -- was carried out under gray skies.

Liu's grieving family followed the coffin as "Taps" played and three NYPD helicopters flew overhead. Officers saluted and the flag was folded and given to Chen. "America the Beautiful" resonated across 65th Street.

Chen clutched a framed photo of Liu while she held a tall incense burner. Shaking, she stared at the ground while the pallbearers saluted after they placed her husband's coffin into the back of the black hearse.

Officers on motorcycles -- from departments including Suffolk County, Newark, Cincinnati, Yonkers, upstate Dutchess County and Baltimore -- followed, along with the NYPD Emerald Society's Pipes and Drums, and other police vehicles, their lights flashing. The long procession then moved slowly and silently through the Brooklyn streets.

Liu was taken to the Cypress Hills Cemetery for a private burial.

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