NEW YORK — A young police officer gunned down last week during a traffic stop was remembered today as an energetic first-generation immigrant who was pursuing his dream of protecting the public when his life was cut short.
At a party celebrating his graduation from the police academy last year, Belarus-born Russel Timoshenko "stood up and said a few words in Russian, explaining why he wanted to become a police officer,'' Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a eulogy at a funeral packed with white-gloved officers, some in tears.
"I want to go to work each day and help people,'' the commissioner quoted Timoshenko as saying. "I want to come home each night and feel good about what I have done.''
Timoshenko, 23, "had a tattoo of an angel on his back,'' Kelly added, "an emblem of his role as a guardian angel here on earth.''
A close friend, David Levin, recalled how he and Timoshenko, though born days apart in the same hospital in Belarus, first met "across the world'' in New York.
"Our parents came here to provide us with a better life a dream Russel will no longer be able to carry on,'' Levin said. "We all feel cheated that such a great person was taken away from us so young.''
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in his remarks that Timoshenko has been promoted posthumously promoted to detective, calling it "a small measure of our appreciation for the supreme sacrifice that Russel made, and to honor his life.''
Bishop Gabriel Chemodakov told mourners, "As difficult as it is to accept, our Lord said, 'There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.' Russel gave his life for his friends, and you may say all New Yorkers.''
Timoshenko died Saturday, five days after he and his partner were shot when they pulled over a stolen vehicle. The other officer, Herman Yan, was wounded but recovered. Three suspects were arrested and charged with murder.
The two-hour service at a Brooklyn funeral home was mostly conducted in Slavonic Russian, the language of the Eastern Orthodox Christian church to which Timoshenko was born in the former Soviet republic.
The bishop, wearing a gold miter, blessed the body with incense as a choir chanted and sang hymns. The officer's mother, Tatyana Timoshenko, wore a black veil and wept when she and her husband, Leonid, approached the open casket.
Bloomberg said everyone recalled that even as a youth growing up in Brooklyn, Timoshenko "was demonstrating those characteristics that others would come to know well: Humor, responsibility, leadership.'' Friends said his humor included a spot-on impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When the family later moved to Staten Island, Timoshenko befriended a neighbor who was joining the NYPD. He decided to follow, despite the concerns of his parents and friends who worried the job was too dangerous.
He kept the decision from his parents "until his first day in the academy, when he came home wearing the gray shirt and blue pants of a recruit,'' Kelly said.
During his short time on the force, Timoshenko made 15 arrests, including that of a rape suspect. On July 7, just two days before he was shot, he collared a man with a knife who had four outstanding warrants.
A fitness buff, Timoshenko "never talked about the dangers of the job,'' Kelly said. "He was simply devoted to the work and the opportunity it gave him to safeguard the city.''
Outside, thousands of police officers from the NYPD and other forces lined the streets as helicopters did a fly-by. Some were from Pennsylvania, where state troopers helped capture two of the shooting suspects hiding out in the woods.
"It was very emotional today,'' said one of the Pennsylvania officers, Capt. James Murtin. "We feel personally bonded ... due to the part we played in the manhunt.''