When a woman in central Queens suffered an unexpected attack and fought off an intruder in her home, Detective Brian Simonsen of the NYPD’s 102nd Precinct answered the call.
In that most vulnerable moment, he was there to comfort her, just as he had done so many other times during his 19-year career in law enforcement.
“She cried on his shoulder so long, her tears soaked through Brian’s shirt,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recalled during a funeral Mass Wednesday at Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays. “She was in a moment of profound distress. He was the kind of person who arrived to make things right.”
Throughout his career, the 42-year-old Calverton man known as “Smiles,” who was raised in South Jamesport, left a lasting impression on all those he met. He was remembered as a hero who continued to give back even in death by donating his organs. Mourners packed the church and hundreds more officers stood silently outside to pay their respects to the first NYPD officer to die in the line of duty since July 2017.
“One day, not today and not soon, when we think of Brian we’ll feel more than the pain of his loss,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neil during the Mass.
Near the end of his remarks, Commissioner O’Neil announced a posthumous promotion to “detective first grade,” and the mourners rose to their feet for a standing ovation.
The mayor and police commissioner both delivered heartfelt remarks to the fallen detective’s surviving family, his wife, Leanne; mother, Linda; and 100-year-old grandfather, Vern, a World War II veteran.
“Our hearts go out to the Simonsen family,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We can only begin to imagine your pain, but we feel at one with you.”
Shawn Petersen, Det. Simonsen’s cousin and fellow NYPD officer, shared stories from their youth and described him as a great teacher. His cousin, he said, even taught him how to ride a bicycle.
“He put me on, gave me a push and said ‘Good luck!’ ” Mr. Petersen recalled.
He described Det. Simonsen as the strongest person he knew and someone with an “infectious personality that made you want to be around him.”
He faced heartache as a youngster, losing his sister and his father just six months apart. He was only 15.
“He immediately assumed the role of man of the house,” Mr. Petersen said. “He became the rock that supported the family.”
As he grew older, one piece was still missing from his life. He found that in the woman he married. Mr. Petersen recalled that his cousin told him he had met a woman in Las Vegas.
That had to be strike one, Mr. Petersen said. After all, who meets someone in Vegas?
Then he found out she lived in Chicago. Strike two, he thought.
There never was a strike three.
“We never saw him more happy and fulfilled,” he said.
He then spoke directly to the fallen detective’s wife and mother, saying: “Brian was a great man because of both of you.”
In the community where Det. Simonsen served, he was known as “Uncle Brian” to neighborhood kids as they played whiffle ball, someone who could be counted on, someone people respected.
“I hope all Americans look at this example,” the mayor said.
Speakers noted the dedication he showed to commute 70 miles every day from his Calverton home to Queens. He had chances to move into different positions, but chose to stay in that community. The commissioner said it’s rare these days to see someone spend their career in one precinct. In his career, Det. Simonsen made close to 600 arrests, nearly 500 of them for felonies, the commissioner said. In his last case, he investigated a brutal robbery. Since his death, fellow officers have made two arrests in that case.
“Brian would have been proud to see that done,” Commissioner O’Neil said.
As the casket was carried out of the church, a trumpet played taps, the lone sound among the thousands that stood at attention. The procession then made its way to Jamesport Cemetery, where Det. Simonsen was laid to rest surrounded by his closest relatives, friends and fellow officers.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of the Diocese of New York, spoke to reporters outside the church Monday night about the grief friends and loved ones experienced.
“We’ve got some extraordinarily brave and generous and heroic people there, and to see their tears and the lump in their throats causes the same in all of us,” he said.
Wall-to-wall flower arrangements, many of them blue and white, lined the inside of the church and lobby where hundreds of mourners paid their respects during the wake services Monday and Tuesday. Several screens displayed photos, a smile on his face in each one.
A wedding photo of the detective and his wife was placed near the open casket, surrounded by some of his favorite things, including a bottle of Bud Light and hats for some of his favorite teams like the New York Mets and Giants.
Artist Jonny Castro, a Philadelphia police officer and the forensic composite artist for the department, presented a framed portrait sketch he created of Det. Simonsen to the family at Monday night’s wake. On Tuesday night, the portrait was displayed near the casket.
Mr. Castro said his goal in painting portraits is to portray officers as heroes. He’s done more than 400 to date, he said.
“Every portrait that I’ve done always gets shipped to their families at no charge,” he said. “Just knowing that the prints will eventually end up in the hands of their loved ones is enough for me to keep doing this.”
Tributes to Det. Simonsen could be seen far and wide. The New York Islanders held a moment of silence before Saturday’s game against Edmonton at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (The Rangers and Knicks have not played games at Madison Square Garden since the shooting.) The Mets shared a photo of a tribute the team posted at Citi Field in Queens.
Locally, blue ribbons were placed on posts and trees throughout the community. Two rows of American flags lined Main Road in Jamesport. A tribute created out of barrels, spelling out “NYPD Smiles” with American flags, was displayed just before the South Jamesport Road intersection. The display was a collaborative effort, completed Tuesday night by John Kramer, Tommy Stapon, Dan Baione, Keith Fink, Steven Begg, retired NYPD officer Tom Downey, David Fink and East End Sign Designs.
Among the thousands of officers who attended the funeral was Officer Ralph Brown of the Los Angeles Police Department. A Riverhead native who joined the LAPD in 1998, Mr. Brown became friends with Det. Simonsen.
“It’s really important that I be here,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Mr. Brown said there’s a close-knit group of friends from Riverhead who are now officers in different departments. He said he was great friends with Richard Freeborn, who was recently honored as the Riverhead Officer of the Year by the Kiwanis Club of Southampton. Capt. Bill Hulse of the New York State Police was another close friend.
He described the bond that exists between fellow officers that keeps them close.
When the shooting occurred last week, Mr. Brown saw a news brief on TV as he prepared to leave for his 6 p.m. shift. All he knew was that two NYPD officers had been shot. As he arrived at work, a friend texted him from New York informing him that his friend, Smiles, was one of the officers shot.
He hoped for the best, that he had simply been injured, but the devastating reality quickly followed.
He struggled to make it through the rest of his shift, and his co-workers picked up on his emotional state. He felt a duty to continue his work, but his fellow officers told him he had to fly out for the services.
“It’s the final respect that you can pay,” he said.
He took a red-eye flight from L.A. late Monday and arrived in time to attend Tuesday night’s wake with friends from the Riverhead police.
“It’s almost overwhelming,” he said. “It’s definitely filled me with pride just to know that I can be here to bid him his final farewell in my LAPD uniform.”
Several fundraising efforts are underway to help support Det. Simonsen’s family. A GoFundMe created by Bill Bourguignon of Wading Riverhad generated $28,000 toward a $100,000 goal as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Please donate to help a hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty protecting the people he served,” the page reads.
Another GoFundMe created by Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstadis collecting funds for the family. The page was originally set up to cover costs for ribbons. But she noted that the Southampton Town Police Superior Officers Association offered to cover the costs of ribbons purchased. A GoFundMe spokesperson said its team works with campaign organizers when more than one campaign is started to ensure all funds are distributed correctly.
Additional fundraising is underway by Blue Lives Matter NYC, a nonprofit created to help law enforcement officers and their families in times of need. The organization has sold more than 3,800 Detective Simonsen shirts in his memory. The organization also has a fallen officers fund to which people can donate.
Det. Simonsen’s family noted that memorial donations may also be made to Healing Haven Animal Foundation, healinghavenaf.org.
Top photo caption: Pallbearers carry the casket out of St. Rosalie’s R.C. Church in Hampton Bays Wednesday morning. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
CORRECTION: The name of Shawn Petersen was misspelled in the original version.
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