For more than a decade, Patrick Luca went to job fairs, colleges and expos looking for the next generation of New York Police Department officers.
Luca, on the force 21 years, served as a mentor to many officers and had a hand in thousands of NYPD applications, officials said.
"He recruited a lot of people who are still in the ranks," said Insp. Martin Morales, commanding officer of the recruiting section where Luca had worked since 2000. "His legacy stays on through them."
Saturday, family, friends and fellow officers mourned Luca, whose body was pulled from the waters of Smithtown Bay near Sunken Meadow Beach.
A day earlier, Luca, 41, and son Caden, 5, launched their inflatable kayak by the Nissequogue River. At some point, they ended up in the water. A passing boater rescued a shivering Caden, who was wearing a life vest.
Luca was nowhere to be found, setting off an intense search involving the Coast Guard, Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau and NYPD.
Morales said Luca was a senior recruiter and role model for younger officers.
"It's a great loss," he said. "He was an important part of the unit."
Born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, Luca moved to Smithtown in 1998 with his mother, Santina. He and his wife, Stephanie, had two children: Caden and daughter Brea, not yet 2.
The family spent Saturday secluded in their suburban home as visitors stopped by to offer condolences. Family members declined to comment.
Neighbors said Luca was kindhearted, with a knack for knowing when people needed a helping hand. In the winter, he could be counted on to grab a snow shovel and dig out driveways and sidewalks.
Neighbor Jennifer Luna, 37, a mother of three, cried as she recounted the kindness of her neighbor.
"It's awful -- awful -- and so sad," she said. "I feel bad for the family, for his wife and the children."
"He gave us all comfort just knowing he was there, if ever we needed anything," said another neighbor, Dawn Georgiadis, 44. "He was a wonderful father, a loving husband and a wonderful son, and just a great friend. Everybody who met him loved him."
"He was always with his little boy," neighbor Rachel Galanti, 40, said. "That's what's so heartbreaking. He was close with both his children."
Luna said Luca knew her husband traveled often and watched out for her. "Sometimes I'd get nervous and he would always say, 'You can call me any time,' " she said.
Of Stephanie Luca, the neighbor said: "We will try to be there for her. He always was there for us."