Family, friends and NYPD colleagues filled a Bay Shore church Saturday, vowing never to forget Det. Tommy Merriweather five years after his death.
Merriweather, 49, of Bay Shore, died Jan. 21, 2013, of pancreatic cancer, which was ruled a 9/11-related illness for his work sifting through the rubble of the Twin Towers.
NYPD officials led a ceremony with Merriweather’s family and other Long Island officials at the First Baptist Church in Bay Shore to celebrate his life and recognize his work after 9/11 as well as time spent as an undercover officer and in the military.
“It’s important we remember his dedication to the city. It’s been 16 1⁄2 years since 9/11 and five years since his death. Sometimes people don’t remember all the pain and anguish that’s happened in that 16 1⁄2 years and we have a tendency to forget sometimes,” NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said. “That day changed the course for our nation and our city. And what Tommy did for the subsequent years was very important. It was a vital component for putting the city back together and for putting all of us back together.”
Merriweather spent about eight months searching for remains after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, sifting through debris from the World Trade Center that were transferred to the Staten Island landfill. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011.
Merriweather’s widow, Jackie Merriweather, said the work after 9/11 was aimed at helping families who had yet to bury loved ones lost in the attacks.
“It was to give some type of closure to the other families,” she said in an interview last week.
She said no one knew the hazards of working in the debris, where Merriweather was only given a paper mask and suit.
After serving eight years in the Army and several years in the Army Reserves and the New York National Guard, he joined the NYPD in 1989. In his 20 years on the force, he worked as an undercover narcotics officer and later as an undercover firearms detective after 9/11. He maintained a private investigation practice after he retired in 2009.
Merriweather was a devoted family man to his two sons, serving as a Scout leader to his eldest son’s Boy Scout Troop, Jackie Merriweather said.
Colleagues and relatives at Saturday’s ceremony laughed at stories about spending time with Merriweather, read scripture and sang songs in his memory.
“For those of us who are family of blood and family of blue, we know five years doesn’t mean anything, it’s like yesterday,” NYPD Deputy Chief Chaplain Monsignor Robert J. Romano said. “The days are harder each day. The days don’t get better, we just learn to live with the wounds in our heart. We pray for the safety of the NYPD and what we do here today is a sign we never forget.”