This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky and Matthew Chayes. It was written by Brodsky.
NYPD Officer Jason Rivera and his wife, Dominique Luzuriaga, had just finished breakfast Jan. 21 when the newlyweds got into a seemingly inconsequential argument. Luzuriaga, anxious to end the disagreement, sought an Uber rather than the the ride her husband offered.
Rivera insisted, saying, "It might be the last ride I ever give you."
Hours later, Luzuriaga would receive the call spouses of NYPD officers always dread, the grieving widow recalled at her husband's funeral Friday.
"I said 'no,' and it was probably the biggest mistake I ever made," Luzuriaga said through tears to a crowd of mourners that included New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
Rivera, 22, just three months removed from marrying his childhood sweetheart — and 14 months into the career of his dreams — had been shot and killed while responding to a mother-son dispute in Harlem. Days later, Rivera's partner, Officer Wilbert Mora, 27, would die from injuries suffered in the same shooting.
"I was lost. I am still lost," a tearful Luzuriaga said Friday as she said her final goodbyes to the young man who charmed her in grade school, creating an unshakable bond that would last a lifetime. "Today I'm still in this nightmare that I wished I never had. Full of rage and anger, hurt, sad and torn. Although I gained thousands of blue brothers and sisters, I am the loneliest without you."
Thousands of mourners gathered at St. Patrick's Cathedral to remember the officer with a "thousand-watt" smile who was so eager to arrive on time during his first shift that he double-parked outside his Harlem precinct, snarling traffic for blocks, the precinct boss said.
Adams, himself a retired NYPD captain, called Rivera a "hero" who joined the department to make a difference in his community.
"He gave his life defending his fellow New Yorkers," Adams said. "That greater love unites us here today."
Luzuriaga, sobbing and tapping the lectern for composure, directed her most pointed remarks at new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has instructed prosecutors not to pursue criminal charges in certain cases, and to seek reduced, or no prison times in others.
"The system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore. … I know you were tired of these laws, especially the ones from the new DA," she said to applause both inside and outside the church. "I hope he’s watching you speak through me right now. I am sure all of our blue family is tired, too."
Bragg, whose policies would not have played a role in the officers' case, said in a statement that he was praying for the slain officers and that his office "will vigorously prosecute cases of violence against police and work to prevent senseless acts like this from ever happening again."
Rivera's 2 1/2-hour funeral drew thousands of officers from across the city and as far away as Canada, prompting the NYPD to close a 10-block stretch of Fifth Avenue.
A floral wreath of Rivera's shield number, 25738, was placed near the church altar, along with a large NYPD photo of a smiling Rivera.
Officers lined up in formation outside the cathedral as Rivera’s coffin, draped in the green, white and blue NYPD flag, was brought out of the church. A trumpeter played taps as a single helicopter flew overhead and church bells chimed nearly a dozen times before playing "God Bless America."
The wake for Mora, Rivera's partner, will be held at St. Patrick’s Tuesday, and his funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.
Mary Dee of Baiting Hollow stood in the cold holding a sign remembering an officer she'd never met: "22 years old. His whole life in front of him. It's just heartbreaking."
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, delivering one of six eulogies, cited Rivera's "incredible sense of service" as she posthumously promoted the officer to detective-first grade, a tradition for officers who die in the line of duty that typically increases death benefits to their families.
"We may not match the sacrifice made by Jason but we can try to match his incredible sense of service," Sewell said. "We may not match his courage but we can try to match his passion. As a city and a police department we all owe these things to Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. We owe it to their families for their sacrifice. The horrors that took their lives is an affront to every decent, caring human being in this city and beyond."
Rivera and Mora, who each lived in Manhattan, suffered fatal gunshot wounds on Jan. 21 while responding to a 911 call from a Harlem woman seeking help with her son, Lashawn McNeil, 47. Police said McNeil opened fire after Rivera and Mora entered a bedroom at the rear of the apartment to speak to him. A third officer who had responded to the call, Sumit Sulan, shot McNeil, who died from his wounds Monday.
"He went out into the unknown," said Inspector Amir Yakatally, the head of the 32nd Precinct, where Rivera and Mora were stationed. "On that day two of our best were taken from us and a third forced to make a life or death decision."
PBA president Patrick Lynch recalled Rivera, whose family came from the Dominican Republic, as the personification of the American dream.
"He’s a hero for the way he died but more importantly … he’s a hero for the way he lived each and every day," Lynch said.
The Nassau and Suffolk police departments packed buses for the church early Friday to show support to Rivera and his NYPD colleagues.
"A loss like this hurts our society and it hurts our nation," said Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo.
Tommy Shevlin, president of the Nassau County PBA, added that "we grieve as one today for the loss of a true hero."
Rivera's older brother Jeffrey said he discouraged Jason from becoming a cop, but the message was ignored. Jason, known to his friends and family as "Tata," was "obsessed" with policing and watching TV shows about the profession.
"There were only two things he knew for certain since he was a baby," Jeffrey Rivera said. "He knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life and he knew who he wanted to be with."
As the Mass came to a close, the widow promised that the death of the man she lovingly called "Big P.O. Rivera" would not be in vain.
"I love you through the end of time," she said. "We will take the watch from here."