Thousands of police officers along with friends and family members of deceased Police Officer Jason Rivera gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan Friday morning, remembering him as a kind officer with a lifelong passion for policing, who had a bright career in law enforcement ahead of him.
Rivera and Officer Wilbert Mora were shot and killed responding to a domestic dispute last Friday. Their deaths followed a spate of high-profile violent incidents that have rattled New Yorkers and triggered heightened calls to tamp down crime from elected officials at all levels of government.
Rivera’s older brother Jeffrey spoke to the thousands of mourners crowded inside and outside the cavernous church, recalling how at a young age growing up in Inwood, his little brother was constantly watching cop shows and listening to the police radio scanner.
“My brother had a lot of fears. My brother was afraid of heights, he was afraid of rats, he was afraid of dogs,” Rivera said. “But he was not afraid to die, to wear that uniform. He was not afraid to die.”
Jason Rivera, 22, known by loved ones as simply ‘Tata," was an avid runner with the Dykman Run Club. Jeffrey Rivera described how the two worked together at a pharmacy growing up, and would deliver prescriptions to elderly patients on bicycles all over the area; to Marble Hill, Fordham and Washington Heights. He’d later sold chocolates to Rivera’s college classmates, pretending to be raising money for his basketball team, when he really just liked the hustle, Rivera said. Rivera married his childhood sweetheart Dominique Luzuriaga last fall after years of courtship, family members said. According to Jeffrey Rivera, his little brother had a crush on her since the second or third grade and eventually confessed his love as a pre-teen.
“My man was ready. My man was a player,” Jeffrey Rivera said. “He had game. Little brother had game.”
His widow Dominique Luzuriaga also spoke to the crowd tearfully recalling an argument she and Rivera had had Friday morning, the day he was killed. She’d rushed off in an Uber instead of letting him drive her, something she called the biggest mistake of her life.
Later that night, when she heard two officers had been shot in Harlem, she called and texted her husband but got no response. She was summoned to the hospital shortly after and recalled rushing in to see her husband, wrapped up in sheets, lifeless.
“Wake up baby, I’m here,” she said. “The little bit of hope I had that you will come back to life just to say, ‘goodbye’ or say, ‘I love you,’ one more time had left. I was lost. I’m still lost.”
Luzuriaga closed her remarks with a jab at newly-installed District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose plan to no longer prosecute cases of resisting arrest, had sparked ire among police officers and police unions.
“I know you’re tired of these laws, especially from the new DA,” Luzuriaga said, speaking directly to her deceased husband. “I hope [Bragg is] watching you speak through me right now. I’m sure all of our blue family is tired too.”
Police said LaShawn McNeil, 47, opened fire on officers responding to a 911 call for help from his mother. The weapon McNeil used was stolen from Baltimore, police said. McNeill reportedly had several prior arrests in other states and was out on probation for a felony drug charge in New York from 2003. He was not out on bail nor was he a youthful offender — two areas of state law Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, said he wanted to update as part of his plan to fight gun violence on Monday.
Adams has also called for reforms to federal gun trafficking laws and tighter checks for people entering the city with weapons.
At the funeral Friday, Adams thanked Rivera for his sacrifice. Adams also spoke of the ways in which Rivera’s life reminded him of his own. Since taking office, the new mayor has tried to foster a new relationship between City Hall and the NYPD, which had been strained under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Jason was the first person in his family to become a police officer,” the mayor said. “As I thought about him I could not help but to reflect on my life. Disappointed in my observations, but watching the desire of the police department to build new bridges.”
Adams was referring to a letter Rivera had reportedly written when he was entering the Police Academy in 2020, where he’d described getting pulled over by police unnecessarily as a kid and how many of his neighbors were often stopped and frisked.
“The way they police really bothered me,” Rivera had written to the head of the Academy. “As time went on, I saw the NYPD pushing hard on changing the relationship between police and the community. This is when I realized I wanted to be a part of the men in blue; better the relationship between the community and the police.”
Outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral, throngs of NYPD officers, and police from jurisdictions all across the tri-state area, gathered in uniform, listening to a livestream of the service blasting out over loudspeakers as snow flurries fell.
“It’s always a sad day when we have to come to something like this,” said Officer Michael Alvarez, assigned to the 114th Precinct. “It’s nice that we get to stand side by side and honor our brother.”
A wake for 27-year-old Officer Wilbert Mora, who succumbed to his injuries earlier this week, is scheduled for next Tuesday, with a funeral the following Wednesday. The January 21 killing was the deadliest attack on police officers since the ambush killing of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in 2014.
Elizabeth Kim contributed reporting.