NYPD Sgt. Jose Rodriguez worked through the night and into the next morning after two of his fellow officers were assassinated by a crazed gunman in Brooklyn.
He returned home to learn that his 9-year-old son had been awakened in the night by a terrible dream.
“He told my wife he had a nightmare. Daddy got killed,” Rodriguez says.
On Saturday morning, a week after the murder of Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu, Rodriguez’s 9-year-old watched his daddy don his dress uniform, complete with white gloves, just as kids were watching their daddy or mommy, or perhaps both, doing in thousands of New York homes.
Rodriguez told his son just what the other police parents were telling their kids on this day the department would bid farewell to Ramos.
“I told him I was going to the funeral,” Rodriguez says.
The unspoken question from his son and the thousands of other kids was, “Could it happen to you?”
The unspoken answer was “Yes.”
Rodriguez then set off into the rosy break of day and joined thousands of other New York cops along with officers from across the country and even Canada outside Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens. A huge American flag hung across Myrtle Avenue.
More cops than anyone can remember at a single gathering filled the surrounding streets on a sparkling morning that was as warm as springtime. Such a day would have been pure heaven on earth for Ramos to have played ball in the park with his sons, 17-year-old Justin and 13-year-old Jaden.
Instead, the Ramos boys sat in the church with their mother, Maritza Ramos, facing their father’s coffin. Vice President Joe Biden spoke, followed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, then Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton.
“Every time I attend a police officer’s funeral—I have attended way too many—I pray that it will be the last,” Bratton said. “But I know it won’t.”
Bratton went on: “As I look into the faces of the loved ones left behind, whose worst fear has been suddenly realized, I hope, ‘Never again.’ But here we are.”
Rafael Ramos had been studying to become a chaplain through the church and he had been killed the very day he was supposed to graduate. Bratton now announced that he was appointing Ramos an honorary chaplain at the 84th Precinct where he was assigned. Bratton was also appointing him to detective first grade. And when the commissioner was done speaking, he stepped over to present the family with a detective shield along with a chaplain’s badge.
Ramos will indeed continue being a spiritual guide for his former precinct along with the rest of the department and anyone, anywhere, who considers his example. Here was a man from the city’s toughest neighborhood who stayed true to his innate goodness, who gave his all to being a cop and wanted to give even more as a chaplain.
Enduring proof of that goodness lives on his sons. The truest words at the funeral were those of young Jaden, as quoted by the governor.
“Everyone says they hate cops,” Jaden wrote, “but they are the people that they call for help.”
Jaden was holding his father’s uniform cap in his right hand as he, his brother, and his mother followed the coffin from the church at the end of the service. The cap devices on thousands of identical hats glinted in the late morning sun along with the shields worn by each of the cops.
Earlier, when the mayor spoke, some of the cops had turned their back on the Jumbotron that carried the service to the street. But their only thought now was of Ramos and his family.
The seemingly endless ranks snapped to attention on command and thousands of white gloves rose in salute. A pair of buglers played “Taps” with the emotion of having lost a comrade and a precision born of practice, undertaken with the knowledge that there would come another moment such as this.
“It is the hardest to play,” one of the buglers says of this seemingly simple tune.
Both the Ramos sons squeezed their eyes and lowered their heads, doing their best not to cry. They looked up into the blue sky as the helicopters flew over in a lost man formation. They then watched the honor guard slow-march the coffin up to the back of the waiting hearse.
As the honor guard ceremoniously folded the flag and an NYPD singer gave a mournful rendition of “America the Beautiful,” the boys looked at each other, then at their mother. Justin said something softly to her. She raised a hand and tenderly touched his cheek.
One of the honor guard approached with slow, measured steps and presented the flag to a uniformed captain. The captain then turned and presented it to Ramos’s widow with the city’s gratitude for her husband’s service and sacrifice.
“Thank you,” she said.
The captain saluted her and kissed her on the cheek. He set a white-gloved hand on Justin’s shoulder and another on Jaden’s shoulder, comforting and steadying them. Their mother clutched the flag to her with both hands, the fingers splayed, as if seeking all it could possibly give her, all she was so desperate to give to the husband and father whose coffin it had covered.
A limousine with lightly tinted windows rolled up. The older boy climbed in first, followed by the younger son and then their mother. Justin gazed out from the dim interior as more than 300 police motorcycles from dozens of jurisdictions rumbled past.
The NYPD Emerald Society pipes and drums struck up a slow march and the procession began the journey to the cemetery. Sgt. Jose Rodriguez stood with his brother, Juan, who is also a police officer. Juan was wearing the same shield that Jose had worn before his promotion to sergeant, the shield he had on at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
On that day, Jose and an NYPD lieutenant had knelt in the dust near the base of the burning North Tower and administered impromptu last rites to fallen FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge. The tower collapsed moments later, but Rodriguez survived and went on to have three sons, now 9, 5 and 3.
Thirteen years later, Rodriguez had come to the funeral of another chaplain, one who shared Judge’s theology that just as the devil is to be found in evil, God is to be found in goodness. Rodriguez now headed home to his kids, as did thousands of other police parents. But in the days ahead he, his brother, and the others will be back in the street while their families worry at home.
The gathering of the thousands of cops had been a soul-stirring sight. More remarkable were the cops who were not able to attend because even then they were out in harm’s way, risking the same fate. Other words that had been written by young Jaden hung in the air on this day when sunshine made such deep shadows and the springtime warmth only deepened the chill.
“It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. I will always love you and never forget you.”
Correction: Officer Jose Rodriguez was misidentified in several places in an earlier version of this story. The misidentification has since been corrected, and The Daily Beast regrets the error.