This story was reported by Vera Chinese, Stefanie Dazio and Alison Fox. It was written by Craig Schneider.
His voice wracked with emotion, the police partner of NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen recalled the laugh, the dedication and the friendship of the Long Islander killed in a friendly fire shooting in Queens last week.
"I will miss his infectious laughter and the way he lit up a room," said NYPD Det. Richard Waters during the funeral Mass for Simonsen Wednesday at the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays.
Mourners — cop and civilian, many wearing green ribbons to signify the NYPD flag — wiped away tears with their hands, tissues and handkerchiefs.
"Eventually we will get back to laughing and smiling the way Brian did," Waters said.
Simonsen's funeral followed days of solemn remembrance for the 19-year veteran of the force, a man beloved for his good cheer, sense of community and commitment to protecting the public.
The detective, who grew up in South Jamesport and lived in Calverton for about 10 years, was fatally shot Feb. 12 by a fellow officer when he and his supervisor, Sgt. Matthew Gorman of Seaford, responded to an attempted armed robbery at a Richmond Hill T-Mobile store.
Simonsen was shot once in the chest, while Gorman was struck in the left leg. Gorman arrived at the funeral in a wheelchair.
At the funeral, Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced that Simonsen had been promoted to the rank of detective first grade. Mourners stood and applauded.
“He was the one you wanted beside you when decisions matter most,” O'Neill said. “We cannot match his courage. We can strive to match his devotion.”
The service brought together thousands of police officers from across the region as well as scores of family and friends. Simonsen’s wife, Leanne, sat in the front pew, wearing a black coat with a blue scarf and a corsage pinned to her lapel.
O'Neill sat in a pew across the aisle, along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. When the mayor spoke, he directly addressed the detective's family.
To Simonsen’s mother, Linda, he said, “As a parent I can only begin to imagine, but I want you to know we all offer you our love.”
To Simonsen's wife, Leanne: “The pain is so cruel, but your love is beautiful and it will be eternal.”
And to the family: “I say on behalf of 8.6 million New Yorkers, I say thank you for bringing Brian to us. … We will never forget him. God bless you all.”
A female police officer performed "Ave Maria," and the sorrowful tune wafted through loudspeakers above the overflow crowd outside the church.
Police Chaplain Msgr. David Cassato remembered Simonsen, 42, as a police officer dedicated to his work, up to his final hour.
“He came to work on a day he didn’t have to come to work. How he did his job until the last second of his life," Cassato said. "Brian rests in God’s peace.
As a union delegate, Simonsen had been to a meeting in the morning and was not required to go to work that night, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan has said.
In his eulogy, Simonsen’s cousin, Suffolk Police Officer Shawn Petersen, recounted how they grew up a year apart in a life of “adventure and laughs.”
The two also faced hard times together. Simonsen's sister died at the age of 13 when she was struck by a car while walking across a street. His father died less than six months later.
"As a teenager, he became the strongest person I knew and he still is today,” Petersen said.
After he finished speaking, he walked up to the coffin in front of the altar and saluted.
Then Waters, who partnered with Simonsen for five years, recalled how their bond extended outside the 102nd Precinct in Queens. Simonsen had helped Waters during a divorce.
“I had no money, nowhere to live ... without hesitation Brian told me come live with him," Waters said. “He took care of me for months, six to be exact. He gave me room and board and all the Bud Lights I could handle.”
Some recalled the lighter side of Simonsen, providing some momentary laughter at his love of the Mets, prankster personality and the high jinks of teaching Petersen to ride a bike.
Before the funeral, scores of marked and unmarked police cars and buses, their lights flashing, drove east along Long Island's highways to the church. Many retraced Simonsen's daily commute from Calverton to Queens, 140 miles round-trip.
They passed through police barricades that shut down Montauk Highway. On a day of subfreezing temperatures, the road was lined with police officers dressed in their finest uniforms and caps, black bands over their badges.
“It’s a tough day for everybody,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “Today is a gathering of a brotherhood where we get together and we remember the fallen.”
The scene was suffused with a sense of somber ritual. Bagpipers in traditional garb stood in the cold.
“We all face similar dangers,” Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said outside the church. “I think that is something that is on police officers' minds when they go to work. That they may not come home to their family.”
Christopher Ransom, a suspect in the attempted robbery that resulted in Simonsen's death, had brandished a realistic-looking imitation pistol and pointed it at responding officers, who fired 42 shots in about 11 seconds, the NYPD said. Ransom was shot eight times. He was indicted on charges of murder and other offenses, his defense attorney and law enforcement officials said.
A second suspect in the alleged robbery attempt was charged with felony murder and a dozen other offenses Sunday. Jagger Freeman acted as a lookout, police said.
After the Mass, officers saluted silently and mourners stood in the cold as six pallbearers carried Simonsen’s coffin — draped with a green, blue and white NYPD flag — out of the church. Police helicopters flew overhead before members of the NYPD Pipes and Drums led the procession out of the church parking lot.
Police on NYPD motorcycles lined up on Main Road in Jamesport, silently saluting the funeral procession as it made its way down the street to Jamesport Cemetery. The cars leading the procession carried flowers, including a large display of NYPD shield 3877, the detective's badge number.
Dozens of civilians gathered along Main Road, holding their hands to their hearts. More than a hundred officers lined up by the gravesite where he was to be laid to rest, as flowers were set up inside the small cemetery.
The Westhampton Beach fire department raised a large flag over Main Road, hanging it from the top of the truck’s ladder. Joseph Gordon, 40, a department captain and a former NYPD officer, has known Simonsen for more than 20 years.
When Simonsen became a detective he handed Gordon his business card, which remains in his wallet today.
Gordon said he got a phone call about 10 minutes after Simonsen was shot. Hearing the tragic news, he said his phone dropped from his fingers.
“I still want to text him on the phone, and I hope he responds,” he said.
Small American flags lined the ground in front of the cemetery. Officers saluted as the coffin was taken out of the hearse and brought to its final resting place. A flower arrangement spelling out the word “Smiles” — the detective's nickname — stood beside it.
Simonsen was buried near his sister, Melissa, and his father, Paul.
Simonsen’s family gathered in front of the coffin as they prayed. Mourners lined up and slowly placed individual flowers on the coffin. Some, paying their respects, simply touched the coffin. Others saluted as they passed by.
As they paid homage to the fallen detective, a soft snow fell over the quiet cemetery.
In their own words
“We ask questions, we say ‘Why?’ We question God and it seems like no real answer comes … Today, our faith teaches us, deep down in our hearts, that Brian lives.” —Msgr. David Cassato, NYPD chaplain
“I had no money, nowhere to live, without hesitation Brian told me come live with him. Brian and Leanne were engaged at the time and Leanne was still living in Chicago. Brian told me, ‘Don’t think twice just grab your things and come to my house.’ So I did. He took care of me for months, six to be exact. He gave me room and board and all the Bud Lights I could handle … Brian was a true friend who never wanted anything in return.” — NYPD Det. Richard Waters, Simonsen's partner
“He wanted to be a police officer from a really young age and he realized his dream … I think we can all agree that we’ve lost one of our very best.” — Mayor Bill de Blasio
“He fell in love with his community, and the community fell in love with him. He had to have loved it, as the mayor said, it’s 70 miles, each way, that’s dedication. For nearly 19 years at the 102nd Precinct, Brian attended the roll calls, the birthday parties, the coffee runs, the weddings and the funerals. And, for nearly 19 years, he did the work. We honor Brian’s memory when we pick up where he left off. We won’t ever finish his work, but the respect is in the effort. It’s in hearing that call for help, and answering it.” — Police Commissioner James O’Neill
“As a teenager, he became the strongest person I knew and he still is today ... You are truly one of New York’s finest.” — Suffolk County Police Officer Shawn Petersen, Simonsen’s cousin