12/07/2005

NY: A sea of blue sadness

BY SARAH GARLAND, MICHAEL FRAZIER AND MELANIE LEFKOWITZ. Michael Frazier and Melanie Lefkowitz are staff writers. Sarah Garland is a freelance writer.

Copyright 2005 Newsday, Inc. 

There were thousands of them - maybe 20,000. A wall of men and women dressed in blue stretched 15 blocks around the church. Inside, in a sanctuary filled beyond capacity to honor fallen Police Officer Dillon Stewart, they wept for his loss and cheered for his bravery.

And they remembered.

They remembered a man who lived for his wife and his daughters, who gave up an accountant's life to patrol Brooklyn's streets at midnight with a gun. Who renovated the house in Elmont where his family lived, transforming a shell into a home. And whose quick thinking, courage and integrity, in his final act, helped police arrest the man charged with killing him.

"He summoned the courage and superhuman discipline to pursue his killer. It's almost impossible to imagine," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. "He wanted to make a difference. ... How many countless others have shared that dream? How few have summoned up the courage to make it come true?"

Stewart, 35, was killed Nov. 28, allegedly by the driver of a speeding car that he and his partner had pulled alongside while on patrol with the 70th Precinct's conditions unit. Stewart continued pursuing the car even after he'd been shot in the chest. Allan Cameron, 27, was arrested hours later and is charged with first-degree murder.

Yesterday, as thousands stood outside on snow-dusted streets, the choir at New Life Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church brought the hundreds inside to their feet, swaying and clapping their hands. Stewart's wife, Leslyn, and mother, Winifred Flemming, stood up with them.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation," Winifred Flemming read in the opening verse of Psalm 27, glancing quickly at her son's flag-draped coffin.

Leslyn Stewart could say only a few words about her husband before she broke down and was led, crying, to her seat.

"I feel truly blessed and honored to have married such a wonderful man," she managed to say.

Their daughters - Alexis, 6, and Samantha, 5 months - had been christened in the church and were present for their father's funeral.

"Dillon was a hero. In fact, from his earliest days, service to others came as natural to Dillon as breathing," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Officer Alton Walker, a friend, recalled in his eulogy a story the Jamaica-born Stewart had told him about moving to New York as a boy. On his first day in his Brooklyn apartment, Stewart thought it was a mansion, and didn't realize he shared the building with others until he visited the upper floors, Walker said.

"Dillon, as I stand here before you, I know [now] you're in the mansion you thought of," Walker said.

Lt. Manuel Gonzalez, Stewart's platoon commander at the 70th Precinct, remembered him, working the overnight shift, as "integrity and honor in the dark." The consul general of Jamaica gave a speech that drew on Bob Marley's lyrics and biblical passages.

The officers outside, lined up as many as 10 deep, stood at attention as the coffin was carried from the church. Helicopters flew overhead in formation, and Leslyn Stewart was presented with the flag that had covered the coffin. Flowers were loaded on the hearse, and the entourage, accompanied by police cars and motorcycles, began its procession past the station house, past Stewart's home, to the Melville cemetery where he was buried.

Passersby were awestruck.

"I've never seen this many police officers in my life," said John Ennis, 57, taping the formation outside the church with a camcorder. 
 
December 7, 2005

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