Farewell To A Fallen Hero
A sea of blue, in the form of uniformed police, filled Shore Front Parkway, Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 84th Street as thousands of police officers paid respect to one of their fallen brothers. NYPD officer Dennis Guerra, of Far Rockaway, was given a sendoff of the highest honor during a funeral service held at St. Rose of Lima Church on Monday, April 14.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife, and Police Commissioner William Bratton stood before the church with three uniformed flag bearers as a parade of NYPD motorcycles led the funeral procession down Beach 84th Street. The motorcycles were followed by a hearse bearing flowers, the New York City Police Department’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, a hearse carrying Officer Guerra’s casket and cars carrying friends and family members.
Fellow officers stood before the hearse and lifted the NYPD flag-draped casket to their shoulders and carried it into the church. Hundreds of people followed including family members, friends, police officers, elected officials and more, filling St. Rose to the brim, leaving people standing at the back and in the side aisles. Thousands of officers from the NYPD and other police groups across New York and even other states patiently waited outside as the ceremony was broadcast through speakers outside the church.
Mayor de Blasio was invited to speak before the congregation. The mayor spoke of how he got to know about Guerra, a former Beach Channel High School student, through spending time with the family in the days before the funeral service. He praised Guerra’s cooking skills on the grill, being sure to mention his “Grillmaster: The Man, the Myth, the Legend” apron, which sparked some laughter among the somber churchgoers.
The mayor also highlighted some of Guerra’s selfless accomplishments like bringing supplies to Hurricane Sandy victims in Red Hook, Brooklyn, while his own home in Far Rockaway was damaged by the storm and his family was displaced. He also mentioned how over the summer, Guerra rescued a boy from a car on the Belt Parkway just before an overheated tire exploded. Mayor de Blasio also acknowledged Guerra’s final act of courage, in which the 38-year-old officer and fellow officer, Rosa Rodriguez, 36, responded to a high-rise apartment fire in Coney Island on April 6. Guerra and Rodriguez, who both patrolled NYC Housing developments as part of PSA-1, took the elevator of the Surf Avenue building to the 13th floor to help rescue residents, but both were overcome by smoke. Guerra died on April 9. Rodriguez, a Howard Beach mother of four, remains hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her family attended the services for Guerra, showing their support.
Police Commissioner Bratton spoke of how Guerra wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father, also named Dennis, was an NYPD detective in Queens and his mother, Miriam was a school safety officer. Guerra climbed the law enforcement ladder by working as a school safety officer and corrections officer before becoming a NYPD police officer about eight years ago. During the service, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton announced that Guerra will step up the ladder once more as he was promoted posthumously to first grade detective. The church erupted with applause at the announcement.
Guerra’s brother-in-law, Curtis Mitchell gave the eulogy as he remembered the family man who had a strong sense of humor. “To many people, Dennis will be remembered as a New York City police officer who performed a selfless act, investigating a fire with the intent of saving lives,” Mitchell said. “He was recently called a hero, but to all of his family, Dennis was always a hero…He will continue to live on in our hearts and memories as such.”
When the church service was over, Guerra’s casket was lifted upon the shoulders of his fellow brothers in blue and was gently placed in the hearse as seven NYPD helicopters flew overhead. Taps was played as the officers removed the green, white and blue NYPD flag from the casket and strategically folded it before handing it to Guerra’s tearful wife outside the church.
The sea of officers, which even included police dogs from the K9-unit and horses from the mounted unit, saluted the funeral procession as it passed by to continue on to St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, where Guerra was buried in a vault that was donated by the Wilbert Burial Vault Company.
Marcell Dockery, a 16-year-old who claims he was “bored” when he lit a mattress on fire in the Coney Island building where Guerra responded, was originally arraigned on charges of assault, arson and reckless endangerment. The charges were then upgraded to a felony second-degree murder. Dockery could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Before the ceremony, local residents stepped up to ensure that the family would have a warm welcome. After learning that the funeral for Officer Guerra would be held in his hometown, several residents came together to make sure the area was in tip-top shape. The Parks and Sanitation Departments worked hard to make sure Rockaway was clean. John Cori, of Friends of Rockaway Beach, also organized a group of volunteers, including Eddy Pastore, Dennis O’Connor, Christine Stengel Puma, Benny Puma, Marni Rhyne, Chris McGrath, Cathy Concepcion Gaines and Michelle Gunn, to do another sweep of the area and clean up any garbage on the blocks surrounding St. Rose the day before the ceremony.
The volunteers also decorated Shore Front Parkway with American flags, which Cori says was made possible through generous donations of the manager of Stop and Shop and customers who chipped in $10 each after hearing what Cori was doing. “We figured it would be nice for the family to see. We wanted to make sure the area was extra clean and extra special as they entered the church,” Cori said. “We made the gesture to place the flags to honor the heroic efforts that Officer Guerra made and to show the family that his neighborhood cares.” Some residents are also planning a permanent memorial for Guerra near his home.
Photos by Kevin Boyle, Katie McFadden, Ozzie, Susan Locke and Dan Guarino