A memorial ceremony Tuesday morning for Nassau police officers who died on the job was especially somber: Until two deaths less than two months apart earlier this year, it had been nearly two decades since the department saw an officer killed in the line of duty.
Nassau County officials have gathered at the front lawn of police headquarters in Mineola since 1982 to honor the memories of their fallen colleagues, but it had been 18 years since a Nassau police officer was killed on the job.
"One death is a lot to take," said Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver. "Two deaths is overwhelming."
About 350 police officers from various departments attended the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour.
County Executive Edward Mangano and District Attorney Kathleen Rice attended the event, as did top police brass.
The memorial paid homage to Officers Michael J. Califano and Geoffrey J. Breitkopf and "all the sworn officers of the department who have given their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice," said acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
Breitkopf's and Califano's names were added to one of the two bronze plaques on a monolith at police headquarters that holds the names of officers who have died.
Breitkopf, 40, of Selden, was a member of the force's Bureau of Special Operations. He was killed March 12 when a Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officer mistakenly shot him in Massapequa Park, minutes after a knife-wielding suspect had been killed at the scene by Nassau officers, according to officials. The shooting remains under investigation, said a spokesman for Rice's office.
Califano, 44, of Wantagh, was a member of the force's Highway Patrol. He died Feb. 4 when a truck driver, who authorities say was dozing, struck his patrol car as Califano was conducting a vehicle stop on the Long Island Expressway in Old Westbury.
Truck driver John Kaley, 25, of Connecticut, is free on bail after pleading not guilty to criminally negligent homicide in connection with Califano's death.
"It's important that we gather and remember that their lives mean something -- mean everything -- to our free society," said Mangano. "Because of the safety provided by these officers."
Califano's widow, Jackie, said she was overwhelmed by the event. "My husband was not one to make a big deal out of himself," she said after the ceremony. "It was very moving."
During the ceremony, members of Breitkopf's family passed tissues to one another, wiping tears. Afterward, family members said they were too distraught to speak.