No giving of thanks was ever more soul stirring than the one offered on the night of Nov. 4 by the widow of an NYPD sergeant outside a Bronx hospital.
Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo had been rushed to Jacobi Medical Center in the afternoon after being shot by a maniac armed with a semi-automatic pistol. His last words had been a warning that likely saved his partner’s life as they approached a suspect’s car.
“Gun! Gun! Gun!”
The doctors at Jacobi had become experts by treating far too many gunshot wounds, but they had been unable to save the 41-year-old father of two young boys. He had been pronounced dead even as his wife, Lisa, was being rushed there.
As always happens when one of their own is killed in the line of duty, cops from all over the city came to the hospital, a good number from home, most in plainclothes.
“Whatever they wore to get there,” a cop later said.
More than 500 of them were standing outside the emergency entrance at 9 p.m., when their slain comrade was brought out on a gurney, covered with a flag. They went silent as he was wheeled the 25 feet to a waiting NYPD ambulance that would be taking him to the medical examiner’s office.
Lisa Tuozzolo watched from the emergency entrance as her husband was placed in the back of the ambulance. She began to wail as the two doors thumped shut.
“Open the doors,” somebody was heard to say.
An emergency service cop did as bid. An NYPD chief escorted the widow up to the reopened back. She climbed inside and sat alone beside the man who had been an adoring husband and a dad such as all dads should be.
The cops remained still and mute as the hush filled with Lisa Tuozzolo’s sounds of absolute grief. She collected herself after three or four eternal minutes and stepped back out onto the concrete apron. The only sound was her voice.
“Thank you, everybody,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you.”
The cops would later talk of the awe that filled them on hearing this woman offer them gratitude at such a moment. But they uttered not a syllable as the ambulance doors thumped shut again.
The ambulance began to roll away. The hundreds of cops stood as many as 15 deep in a double line that stretched across the parking area and down along the inclined roadway.
The cops who had come from home returned to families whose greatest fear was that this could happen to them. The cops who were working rejoined the thousands of others out patrolling the city, as cops across the country continue to do no matter how many are killed, no matter how little thanks they get from the people they routinely risk all to defend.
Five members of the NYPD had been shot to death in the line of duty in just over two years, beginning with the two detectives who were assassinated as they sat in their radio car just before Christmas in 2014.
On Nov. 10, cops from across the country joined the NYPD in forming a much longer double line for Sgt. Tuozzolo, this time for his funeral on Long Island. Thousands gave a white-gloved salute as an honor guard bore the flag-covered coffin into St. Rose of Lima Church.
Lisa Tuozzolo was by the entrance with her boys, 4-year-old Austin on one side and 3-year-old Joseph on the other. She held their hands and crouched down so she was at eye level with them. She spoke to one and kissed him on the shoulder and then spoke to the other as the coffin passed.
She continued to hold their hands when she rose and led them inside. The eulogists included NPYD Commissioner James O’Neill.
“Paul did not hesitate,” O’Neill said. “For the sake of his family in blue and for the sake of strangers, Paul kept moving toward the danger, moving toward the unknown, because that’s what we do.”
Cops everywhere kept doing what they do. Four of them were shot in four cities this past weekend; one, a detective in San Antonio, Texas, died.
Another cop was shot in Detroit on Tuesday. He died early Wednesday evening.
The San Antonio family and the Detroit family, along with five families in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge, now arrive at the first Thanksgiving since their loss.
They, and the Tuozzolos in New York. The very least we owe the cops and their families are the words that Lisa Tuozzolo offered with such monumental nobility to her fallen husband’s comrades outside a Bronx hospital.