The Rev. Dave Regan looked out at the congregation in a Smithtown church Wednesday and described Patrick Luca as a man who "belonged to three wonderful families" -- the NYPD, the church community and his own loved ones.
Luca, a 21-year NYPD veteran who died in a kayaking accident on Smithtown Bay last week, was eulogized as a family man. "The invitation today that we take together is to embrace the families that he really loved," Regan said.
Luca was laid to rest Wednesday after the funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Church in his hometown. The gathering of more than 300 mourners included a heavy NYPD presence and dozens of Luca's family members -- among them his widow, Stephanie; son, Caden, 5, who survived the accident; and daughter Brea, 22 months -- and friends.
Eileen Leone of Queens, a friend who works in the NYPD's medical division, was among those paying respects. She called it "very sorrowful, very painful" to see Caden and Luca's widow.
Leone said Luca, 41, "put everyone before himself" -- especially his two children.
"He always talked about his kids and his family," Leone said. "We knew them through him."
Luca was found by a boater in Smithtown Bay Saturday, a day after he had taken Caden out in an inflatable kayak. Passing boaters on Friday rescued the boy, who was wearing a lifejacket and floating in the water, and authorities later found the kayak.
Wednesday, Luca's coffin -- draped with an NYPD flag -- was carried from the church after the service, his tearful wife and children following close behind.
Stephanie Luca left the service clutching a folded American flag and disappeared into a limousine that had taken the family to and from the service. Caden, wearing a blue blazer and tan pants, and Brea, in a white dress, accompanied her.
Many of Luca's NYPD colleagues gathered outside church before and after the service to share memories.
Kevin Strong, who worked in recruitment with Luca for 10 years, said Luca impressed his fellow officers because he put his family first.
"He was an awesome guy," Strong said, his voice breaking. "He always wanted to go home and be with his family and spend time with them. He was a great example for other men."
Before the funeral Mass, a quiet, somber crowd made up largely of police officers -- most from the NYPD but also from Suffolk and Nassau -- assembled outside St. Patrick's. Two fire trucks from the Smithtown and Nesconset departments held a three-story American flag draped between their fully extended ladders at the entrance to the parking lot.
Insp. Martin Morales, the NYPD's commanding officer of recruitment and Luca's boss, said Luca had worked in recruitment since 2000.
"He was very professional, very polite, very articulate. He had the gift of gab, which is why he was great as a recruiter," Morales said.
"This is probably one of the hardest weeks of my career in the NYPD," Morales added. "It's not easy. It's been very sad."
Michael Ki, who works in the NYPD photo ID card unit and regularly saw Luca at work, said Luca was excited about the chance to go kayaking with his son. "He was friendly, he helped out a lot of people," Ki said.
Suffolk police said Wednesday the kayak case is still under investigation. Suffolk Homicide Squad commander Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky has said the department is awaiting a medical examiner's report before making a determination on the cause of death.
With Bill Bleyer