PBA members stand strong with officers from across the country to honor NYPD detective Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora and show the blue line will go on forever
No wide-angle lens, no aerial view from a drone aptly captured the sea of blue extending for blocks and blocks and blocks on Fifth Avenue. Tens of thousands of officers filled the avenue to honor NYPD Officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora who were lost in that heinous, senseless, needless shooting on Jan. 21.
The night before Rivera’s funeral, Passaic County Corrections Officers Local 197 Lorraine Shackail’s daughter, Violet, asked, “Do you have to go?” Inside and underneath the thousands of hats forming the never-ending blue line at these stirring line-of-duty-death funerals presented a view that Corporal Shackail never imagined.
“When the casket passed us, you could have heard a pin drop,” Shackail described. “Now, you’re in New York City. There are tens of thousands of people. But nobody was whispering. Nobody was on their cell phone. Even the people who were walking on the street stopped. It was absolutely breathtaking.”
Shackail didn’t realize how breathtaking until she watched the TikToks of the event. She knew the casket passing started a domino effect of salutes. But a photo or a video could not truly document the honor, the respect, the tribute, the remembrance and love that flowed up and down Fifth Avenue.
Nor the way the brotherhood united and stood up for blocks and blocks and blocks to the criminal who hit Rivera and Mora when they responded to that domestic and was on the loose only because of failing justice system. This sea of good guys assembled to hold that line, to show the world that regardless of what happens, law enforcers are always going to be shoulder to shoulder, patch to patch, chests swelling with the pride of the badge.
“It shows that you can knock one down, you knock two down or whatever the case,” confirmed Steve Molina, who attended both funerals with several fellow members from Union City Local 8. “But we’re going to come back stronger. We will never stand down. We’re never backing down.”
Drawing the line
Voices from inside the sea of blue will not help make sense of what happened to these two NYPD heroes. But the PBA members who were there – see their titanic presence on pages 44-45 – illuminate why they needed about eight seconds to mobilize contingents that included as many as 40 officers in some cases to attend.
When Wall Township Local 234 President Megan Alexander stepped off the bus that brought 18 members, she was astounded by the big picture. Officers spread as far as the eye could see even with the snow berating Rivera’s funeral and mucking up the visibility.
“You think about the snow for about five seconds getting off the bus,” Alexander explained. “You think about the family members speak about the officer they lost. It’s not just an officer. It’s a brother, a husband, a son. It’s definitely a tear-jerker, but that’s why you’re there. We showed up that day because we are the people who want good for everybody. And that’s a little faith back into the profession that we are the good guys.”
Prior to the services, officers leaned on each other at the PBA’s special services trailer hubbed at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street (see story on page 47.) In addition to members from hundreds of Locals, sisters and brothers from California, Texas, Florida, Dubai and the Dominican Republic grabbed a cup of coffee and a shoulder there.
You peek at everyone’s uniform to see if they are from a department near you or one you never heard of. And it all reminds officers of the honor that is putting on the uniform.
“I feel like the way the blue line extended on those days was just extra strong,” commented Hackensack Local 9 State Delegate Frank Cavallo who put a group of 13 together to attend Rivera’s funeral and 16 to attend Mora’s. “And morale goes up with that kind of unity.”
In the wake of the incident and another blatant attack on law enforcement, a morale boost came from seeing that many people who have chosen career paths in law enforcement. Howell Township Local 228 State Delegate Ryan Hurley didn’t want to leave his wife hanging by not getting his kids to daycare the morning of the first funeral, but she knew he had to be there to pay his respects.
He actually made it inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the service, which he described as heart-wrenching with not a dry eye in the church. Hurley also observed the significance of the longest, strongest blue line ever.
“I would say the times we’re living in now and the heat that law enforcement officers are under absolutely plays into it,” he commented. “It generates more enthusiasm for people to get out there and say, ‘We stand together.’ No matter what’s going on nationwide, what people think they can do or how lawless you believe it can get at this point, we’re going to get the job done.”
First and foremost, conversations among the – according to some reports – up to 50,000 officers standing there reminded that the presence was all about making sure family members and the NYPD new that they are not alone.
“The brotherhood is the whole nation and every cop,” emphasized Hazlet Township Local 189 President Russ Surdi, who attended both funerals as commander of his department’s honor guard. “Both of them wore the same uniform we all do. It shows that their lives meant something, and it shows their families that they’re a part of our family now.”
Lay it on the line
Nobody said so, but every officer who attended knew it could have been them when a repeat offender emerged from behind a bedroom door in Harlem on Jan. 21 and started shooting. Rivera had been on for just 14 months, entering the academy in November 2020.
Months after the city had been rocked by social-justice protests, Rivera said he joined the department because he wanted to make change from within. A son of Dominican immigrants, he had fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a law enforcement officer.
The 22-year-old Rivera loved cop shows as a child, often battling family members for the remote so he could watch them. Shortly after coming on, Rivera would sign up for any assignment that would get him on the street. He was determined to make the city safe from the type of criminals he wound up facing on Jan. 21.
He met his beloved wife Dominique Luzuriaga in elementary school and married her this past October. She seemed to speak the mind of every officer when during her husband’s eulogy, she called out Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
“The system continues to fail us,” she said as tears flowed from her eyes. “We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service. I know you are tired of these laws, especially from the new D.A.”
Mora, who also promoted to detective posthumously, had been on for four years. He came to U.S. from the Dominican at 7 years old, and, after graduating the academy in October 2018, he was assigned to the 32nd precinct in Harlem where he made 35 arrests.
His brother, Wilson, shared how they planned trips together because Wilbert “wanted to experience the adventure because his love for life was infectious.” His sister, Karina, noted how Wilbert had a smile that could light up the world, and she echoed some of Luzuriaga’s sentiments.
“A light has gone out, painfully, forever,” she said. “How many Wilberts, how many Jasons, how many more officers will have to lose their lives before the system changes?”
The 27-year-old was praised for his heroism and for being an organ donor. Mora’s organs were transported to five patients in three states.
New York City PBA President Pat Lynch commented on Mora’s heroics, considering a patient who might have received Mora’s heart.
“They will hear the heartbeat of a hero in that heart,” he declared.
The front line
Stories of what PBA members did to be one of those hats in the line add to the emotion of being there. You bet every officer took this personal.
Manchester Township Local 246 member Mike Gardner, who has been on since 2019, grew up in Brooklyn. He worked the midnight shift before Rivera’s funeral, but no way was he not pulling a double to get there. He grabbed a train to get into the city and on the ride in saw that law enforcement did not stand alone in honoring Rivera and Mora.
“People in the subways were thanking us for our support and showing out,” Gardner reported. “A lot of people don’t know where Manchester, New Jersey is but they were just thankful for us being there.”
As he was walking to his transport back to Jersey afterward, Passaic County Corrections Officers Local 197 member Joseph Petriello saw a woman on 45th Street thanking every officer who passed her. Not yelling but trying to send a personal greeting to as many as possible.
“She just kept saying over and over, ‘Thank you for your service. Thank you for your service,’” Petriello recalled.
Here was the power of the blue line, of the honoring of heroes, of the understanding of the importance for public safety reverberating across the city and across the law enforcement profession. As the bagpipes echoed through an otherwise silent city and a procession that began with more than 500 units in a motors escort and ran for more than 30 minutes moved forward, officers held what could be the longest and largest present arms ever.
Tributes from Lynch and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a retired police captain, were more inspirational and uplifting than anybody could have anticipated. Members indeed were reassured that if had been them, then they knew tens of thousands of officers would come out to make sure their family members would never be alone.
Standing next to a group of NYPD officers he never met, Secaucus Local 84 member Kiril Petrov confided that even though he felt like times are not in law enforcement’s favor, the way they held that line and stood united truly stood for something unique here. Petrov served in the Marine Corps and has endured too many service funerals. But he never experienced anything like this before.
“One-hundred percent, it reinforced our belief system,” asserted Petrov, who attended with nine other officers from his department’s honor guard. “It sent chills down my spine seeing the officers from the cathedral all the way down Fifth Avenue. That’s the way it should have been. We’ve got to let everybody know that these guys who takes shots, that you cannot. We’re never going to back down, you know.”
Walking away from Fifth Avenue, PBA members no doubt took with them indelible images and lasting sentiments.
For Woodbridge Local 38 member Mike Harris, the message was this: “Safety and peace,” he began. “And we have to watch each other’s backs, lean on each other and take care of one another because we’re all we have.”
Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora left the 50,000 officers who attended their funerals and the entire blue line with a reason to be positive.
“Be proud of your profession,” Wall Township’s Alexander stated. “Be proud of being able to stand shoulder to shoulder next to so many good, good people in this profession.”
A Hub of Comfort
NJSPBA Special Services trailer provides a refuge for those from across the country who attended funerals for NYPD officers
By Esther Gonzales
Long before sunrise on Jan. 28 and Feb. 2, the NJSPBA Special Services team prepared their trailer to journey to New York City for the funerals of Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, NYPD officers killed in the line of duty.
The team, which included Berkeley Heights Local 144 State Delegate Pat Moran, Montgomery Township Local 355 State Delegate Joe Sles, Vernon Township Local 285 State Delegate Keith Curry, Little Falls Local 346 State Delegate Frank Conti and Hopewell Local 342 State Delegate Jim Hoffman, arrived at 5 a.m. to set up on 45th Street, off Fifth Avenue. Soon, thousands of officers from across the country would gather here during the days to mourn the tragic loss of two of their own.
They were somber days, to be sure, and the PBA Special Services team brought its special service of comfort and comfort food to create an oasis that served officers at a time when they were needed most. They welcomed the chance to lend a shoulder to their brothers and sisters.
“When I was given the opportunity and asked to do this, I immediately said yes,” remarked Conti, who served with the Special Services detail for the first time. “It didn’t matter the amount of hours I took out of my day. I didn’t hesitate. It was something that I wanted to do. If I wasn’t serving with the State PBA trailer, I probably would’ve been there in uniform side by side with the rest of all the officers.”
Members of the Special Services team were eager to support the brotherhood, the tens of thousands of officers standing side by side at one of the largest funerals the team had ever attended. Officers from throughout the tri-state area, contingents from Chicago, Virginia and many departments across the country and others who traveled hours to attend the services were welcomed with open arms. And some of the more than 1,500 NYPD recruits on hand found their way to the trailer, expressing their gratitude for the presence of the NJSPBA.
The Special Services trailer was a much-needed refuge for officers to step away from the heaviness of attending the funerals on cold winter days to receive the comfort of a hot coffee and the PBA’s famous dirty water dogs.
“It means a lot to assist and give back in any way and support officers,” Sles revealed. “Whether it’s just to hang out and chat or supply a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate or some snacks, or obviously the famous hot dogs.”
Many officers stopped by the trailer and shared stories of the two brothers who were lost. And they were quick to express their gratitude to the PBA for the overwhelming support.
“Their expressions showed a lot of what it meant for us to be there to make sure everybody was taken care of,” Conti described. “It’s unfortunate circumstances that we got to be there, but every time it does happen, we want to be there to show our support.”
As hundreds of motorcycles led the funeral procession, and the sound of the bagpipes proceeding on Fifth Avenue grew louder, the noise around the trailer fell silent.
“You know when that hearse is getting very close, that this is it, this is the moment,” Moran observed. “It was a quiet feeling as that hearse was going by and everybody gave their final salute to the officer who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Being there for moments like that seemed to allow the PBA Special Services team members to reflect on why they serve. And just how important it is for them to seek every opportunity to give back to their law enforcement family.
When Conti was asked to assist with the day, he accepted without hesitation. He confided how he was humbled to be part of offering a sense of strength in a time of grief.
“It really meant a lot to me,” Conti reflected. “I think every single officer realizes that we are one family, and in these unfortunate circumstances, it doesn’t matter what department you’re from, what race, what religion, especially NYPD, it’s very diverse. We’re all one family. It doesn’t matter who it happens to, we’re all going to show up to it.”
Sles has become a Special Services team staple, having made many trips with John Hulse, the PBA special projects coordinator, to line-of-duty-death funerals across the country the past couple of years. He is always eager to serve the brotherhood that means so much to him.
The thousands of officers standing shoulder to shoulder, even in the cold weather, was a sight he said he will never forget. And whether he was offering condolences or pouring coffee, he was grateful for the opportunity to serve in any way.
“It’s nice to know that you’re out there lending a hand to your fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement, and obviously, to see that big turnout for the procession and see just the wall of blue stretching down the entire Fifth Avenue was an impressive sight,” Sles revealed. “To see the support from officers from all over the country, it’s very memorable.”
And Local 342’s Hoffman recounted how amazed he was at the number of officers who attended.
“It was very touching,” Hoffman commented. “It was very moving to see people that came out to show support and gave up their time for people they didn’t know, but they were in the same line. It means people out there still care.”
On a day of great mourning, when thousands of officers experienced the true meaning of brotherhood, the presence of the PBA Special Services team offered a sense of safe haven where officers could take a respite from the day and know they were not alone.
“Every police officer that takes this job gets in it to help people, much like Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. That’s what everybody gets on the job for,” Moran commented, “to become a part of the neighborhood through community policing. You want to be there and get to know the public. You want to intervene. You’re just not somebody who comes and goes.”
As Hulse, who has been leading the expeditions for so many years, served up yet another dirty water dog and the PBA brewed up another pot of coffee, there was an opportunity to see the impact of their special service. On this day of mourning, officers from across the country gathered around the trailer and even smiled for a brief moment. They posed for photos with each other, seemingly wanting to make this a memorable moment.
“The thin blue line goes a long way,” Moran confirmed. “It was a very great showing of solidarity.”
NJSPBA members help create a thick blue line of motors units
By Rosemary An
More than 350 pure white helmets emerged within a sea of blue. Motor escorts were standing in salute as officers lined up in formation. Suddenly, the rumbling thunder of motorcycles pierced the silence.
Clifton Local 36 State Delegate Derek Fogg rode past every single one of the thousands of officers standing at attention to pay respects at NYPD Officer Wilbert Mora’s funeral in midtown Manhattan on Feb. 2.
Fogg joined the seemingly endless parallel columns of motors — up to 500, according to some — escorting the hearse carrying Mora’s casket. The motorcade rode at less than 10 miles per hour up Fifth Avenue, passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street. Within the handful of NYPD funerals Fogg has attended in 18 years, this is the first motorcade he’s seen that lasted nearly eight minutes.
Fogg was obviously moved by the sight of the avenue packed from curb to curb.
“You have a different view on the entire funeral because you get to see the sheer numbers,” Fogg described. “Not just from a bird’s-eye view, but from [eye level], because you are literally riding past every one of those officers.”
Mora and his partner, Officer Jason Rivera, were shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call in Harlem on Jan. 21. Motors units from throughout New Jersey, which included members from Local 36, Union City Local 8, Elizabeth Local 4 and Hoboken Local 2, promptly responded to serve with the motor details on Jan. 28 for Rivera’s funeral and Feb. 2 for Mora’s.
“It’s a proud moment,” Fogg confided. “It’s nothing more than an honor to escort a fallen officer to their final resting place.”
Local 36 members, including Fogg, Mohammad Droubi, Louis Reza, Vincent LaRosa and Ryan Maloney, rode with a contingent of East Rutherford Local 275, Rutherford Local 300, East Brunswick Local 145 and Elmwood Park Local 185 members. They mustered at the United Nations headquarters to position themselves in formation while waiting for others to arrive.
Meanwhile, Local 4 members Brian McDonough, Michael Ruscansky, Craig Lovett, James Lugardo, Alex Blanco and Gigi Arias arrived with Linden Local 42 members. Local 2 State Delegate Christopher Hatfield and members Keith Rotondi, Ray Calderon and Francisco Rosa made the trek with a large contingent including members from Local 8, Weehawken Local 15, North Bergen Local 18, Port Authority Local 116 and Newark Local 3, as well as members of Bergen and Passaic County.
Local 8 member Ron Portillo said motorcycles from agencies throughout the country filled Fifth Avenue. The hundreds of patches embodied their desire to show up for grieving NYPD officers.
“There were bikes from everywhere,” Portillo emphasized. “I think [the motor escort] is the best way to give the person their final salute, showing that support and that we’re there for them through this tragedy.”
Hoboken’s Rotondi, who has 22 years on the job, said the dedication from NJSPBA members to honor the fallen no matter the weather or distance — it was snowing during Rivera’s funeral — is proof that motors officers would move mountains to show up for their brothers and sisters.
“If they could ride, if it’s physically possible, they’re on a motorcycle to go show their respects,” Rotondi explained. “The most unique thing about this is the camaraderie. That’s something to be said about the brotherhood of officers in general, and even more with motor officers.”
The NYPD returned the support by taking care of motors officers. Not only did they provide coffee, sandwiches and bagels before the procession, they also made sure the members stayed warm throughout the day. The department sent in buses as warming stations during Rivera’s funeral. Local 2 State Delegate Christopher Hatfield said the stations provided an extra opportunity to interact with NYPD officers.
“There were a lot of [motors cops] there, and we were filling [the buses] up,” Hatfield recalled. “That was pretty neat, because then we’re just talking to officers from other departments. It was nice to build friendship and rapport with others around the area.”
At both funerals, NYPD motors formed a double line while other agencies positioned themselves in another side-by-side procession. While the blue line had a presence that extended for blocks and blocks on Fifth Avenue, Local 8 member Steve Molina believes the motors helped show how thick that line is, with representation from across New Jersey and all across the country.
With hundreds of motorcycles, the officers could have ridden in clusters. But the two columns provided a visible blue line for members to literally see their relentless and ceaseless support for each other.
“We could ride four on or three on, but we ride side by side,” Molina explained. “Like, ‘You’re my partner.’ There are goosebumps running down your whole entire body. It’s just amazing. It was legit never-ending.”
The officers waited for the procession at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to end. The revving of motorcycles was a sign that the fallen officer was about to be escorted to his final place of honor. Wearing either dress blouses or leather coats, the escort pulled out in rows of two. They rode north on Fifth Avenue, passing the cathedral and the thousands of officers in blue dress uniforms.
“It’s breathtaking as you look at the sea of blue,” McDonough confided. “Everyone’s always looking for us and could hear us coming down the streets.”
Riding between five and 10 miles per hour, Local 42 member John Halkias thought he hit the halfway point and looked up at the crowd to take in the first two NYPD funerals he’s attended. He called the scene unbelievable.
“It brought chills to my body how many law enforcement officers came to support,” Halkias reported. “I couldn’t see the end of the formation. It was shocking.”
Molina remembers the last time he attended a funeral with a procession of the magnitude of both of these funerals. Just after graduating from the police academy in 2014, he worked the funerals for NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot in their patrol vehicle. Eight years later, seeing that animosity toward law enforcement hasn’t changed left him speechless.
“Being able to attend on a rookie or civilian [perspective] to now, my emotions were all over the place,” Molina admitted. “You see the beauty part of it, the support of most people, but then you still see a few with all that hatred just for us wearing a uniform.”
Still, the most overwhelming observation was how the catastrophe that ensued from Rivera and Mora’s response led to two days of officers becoming pillars of strength for one another.
“Being part of the [motorcycle] squad, it goes to show that it’s a beautiful event,” Molina added. “But at the same time, it’s a sad and tragic moment.”
The motors escorted the fallen officers to their final resting locations — Rivera at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, and Mora at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens — to mark the end of the funerals. They were cheered by civilians while riding from Manhattan into Queens.
“I saw a lot of support from all people throughout the city,” Halkias recalled. “It’s important for us to show support, but it was great to see it, too.”
As Rotondi pulled into the Calvary Cemetery, the NYPD motors were waiting to show their appreciation for showing up to honor Rivera and Mora.
“They’re very appreciative,” Rotondi revealed. “They were lining up and giving out fist bumps. They thanked us for coming all the way out there to help them with that escort.”
Rotondi and Hatfield stressed that motors officers will stop at nothing to honor the fallen. They would have moved heaven and earth to represent Local 2 and pay respects to Rivera and Mora and their families.
“It’s something we don’t ever want to do,” Hatfield confessed. “It’s hard. But we take a lot of pride in it, and it’s an honor to be part of it.”