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Group honoring slain NYPD Detective Joseph Petrosino contributes to Liu, Ramos families

Giuseppe Petrosino, an immigrant from Salerno who became

Giuseppe Petrosino, an immigrant from Salerno who became the NYPD's first Italian-American detective, waged a valiant battle against the Black Hand, a loosely-knit criminal organization that extorted money from Italian immigrants. He founded the Bomb Squad, the first unit of its kind in the United States, to counter the Black Hand's use of explosives in carrying out its extortion threats. From 1905, Petrosino and the "Italian Branch," an elite corps of Italian-American Credit: NYPD / handout

The killing on this day 106 years ago in Sicily of fabled NYPD Det. Joseph Petrosino prompted a special showing of generosity earlier this week for the families of slain officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

During a dinner hosted Monday night by the nonprofit Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino Association Inc., NYPD Chief of Department John O'Neill accepted a $2,000 check from the group earmarked for the benefit of the Liu and Ramos families, department and association officials said.

Petrosino became an international law enforcement legend when on March 12, 1909, he was gunned down at the age of 44 in Palermo, Sicily, while probing the Mafia and its New York connections. Some historians said the police commissioner at the time, Theodore Bingham, imprudently leaked word of Petrosino's secret assignment by talking about it to reporters.

Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40, were shot dead Dec. 20 in Brooklyn as they sat in their patrol car. Their killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, committed suicide a short time later.

Petrosino's killers were suspected to have been a group of Mafiosi from New York and Italy who were never convicted. Brinsley said in social media postings just before he shot Liu and Ramos that he wanted to kill cops.

"The interesting part is that 106 years later [police] assassinations still occur," said Robert Fonti, of Cold Spring Harbor, vice president of the association. "The only difference is that Petrosino was killed on foreign soil."

James Lisa, president of the association, said the group has several hundred members on Long Island and in the tri-state area.

The Liu and Ramos families have received large public donations. While relatively modest, the association's contribution is a way of remembering that they gave their lives for the city, said Fonti.

Petrosino, the only NYPD officer to die while on duty overseas, was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens after a funeral watched by an estimated 250,000. But unlike in previous years, the association didn't plan a ceremony at the cemetery this year, said Lisa. However, it is expected that an international association that honors Petrosino will hold a ceremony Thursday in his native Italian town of Padula, Lisa said.

Petrosino's life was the focus of the 1960 film "Pay or Die" featuring Ernest Borgnine as the detective. Italian filmmakers are planning to do a documentary about Petrosino's life with NYPD assistance beginning in May, a department official said.

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