Street dedicated to fallen NYPD detective killed in blue-on-blue shooting
The detective was responding to an attempted robbery during the time of the shooting
Sean Mackie had nearly finished his speech honoring his childhood buddy, the late NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen, when his voice caught, snagged on the emotions he was feeling.
Mackie was standing on the very street where they grew up, South Jamesport Avenue, which was dedicated Saturday as "Det. Brian Simonsen Way."
Mackie, 42, had talked about all the fun memories — the basketball games at the rec center, the backyard barbecues that stretched into sleepovers, the staying up all night playing video games.
"This is where I had my first hello," he said, his voice cracking. Then after collecting himself, he added, "and my last goodbye."
The ceremony, held under a big tent on the tree-lined street, resembled a summer get-together of neighbors, friends and the Simonsen family. People smiled and hugged each other as they celebrated the life of the 19-year veteran of the force who was so beloved for his good cheer that people called him "Smiles."
Joe Hartmann was there, recalling how they had played softball and hung out at the Simonsens' pool as teens.
"We were supposed to go snowmobiling around the time he was killed," said Hartmann, now an assistant chief of the Riverhead Fire Department.
Georgette Case sat toward the back of the rows of white chairs lined up under the tent. The Riverhead town historian recalled Simonsen as the nice boy she'd see in Riverhead United Methodist Church.
But when the color guard stepped forward and the bagpipes began to wail, it summoned the funeral four months ago for the detective killed in a blue-on-blue shooting on Feb. 12. He was responding to an attempted robbery in Queens.
NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill recalled that ceremony, which drew thousands of police in their dress blues. He said the street-naming will provide an everlasting memorial to the 42-year-old fallen detective.
"Today and for generations to come, people will see this sign and ask about Brian Simonsen," O'Neill said. "It will be another opportunity to tell his story."
The event was one of two street-naming ceremonies held on Long Island Saturday for fallen members of the NYPD.
In Shirley, NYPD officers, family members, and neighbors gathered to honor NYPD Sgt. Paul Ferrara at the intersection of West End Avenue and Flower Hill Drive.
Ferrara had served 22 years on the force. He had responded to the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero and eventually suffered from stage 4 lung cancer, dying Aug. 28, 2014. He is survived by his wife, Kerrie; son Paul Jr., and parents Nick and Diane.
At the Jamesport ceremony honoring Simonsen, friends said that even when he was young, he stepped up when his family faced tragedy. Simonsen's sister, Melissa, died at age 13 when she was struck by a car while walking across a street. His father, Paul, died less than six months later.
"He always said he had to be home for dinner at 5:30," Mackie said. "He couldn't miss family dinner. Then he'd go out again."
Simonsen's wife and mother also attended the dedication. His wife, Leanne, pulled the cord that unveiled the blue street sign, a copy of which was given to her. "It's beautiful," she said. "There's no better way to honor such a beautiful person."
His mother pointed out the tan home where her family lived for 35 years — "just past the stop sign, right before the creek."
Her son is buried not far away in Jamesport Cemetery, near his sister and father.
"It still doesn't seem real," said Linda Simonsen, 70, of her son's death.
Linda, who now lives in Calverton, said she was moved by all the memorials for her son — the scholarships, the charity baseball game, the organ donor drive.
Still, she said, "I'd rather have him."