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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Thousands mourn NYPD officer whose dreams ended with fatal shooting

New York City police officers arrive for the funeral service of Officer Wilbert Mora at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.

By Michael Wilson

A boy born in the Dominican Republic knew after he arrived in New York City, just 7 years old, that he wanted to be a police officer. And over the 20 years that followed, the boy grew tall and broad and earned his badge.

On Wednesday, 12 days after he was trapped in a bullet-fueled attack in a Harlem hallway, that officer, Wilbert Mora, who at 27 impressed his seniors with his diligence and quiet manner in just three years on the job, was laid to rest before thousands at a funeral under the soaring arches of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

It was a pageant of hard-trained discipline and precision befitting an officer known to stay at any given call until the problem was solved to his satisfaction. Row after row of blue in the cathedral pews faced the egg-white vestments of the city’s Roman Catholic leaders on the altar. Outside, more officers than could fit in a dozen cathedrals lined a muted Fifth Avenue.

“I thank you for sharing your son with our city,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a eulogy that directly addressed Mora’s grieving parents. “He was proud to wear the blue uniform.”

On Jan. 21, Mora, Officer Jason Rivera and a rookie riding along to observe responded to a domestic dispute call on 135th Street in Harlem. A mother had called to say her son was being threatening.

The officers arrived and were told the son, Lashawn McNeil, was in a back bedroom. Mora and Rivera approached the room, at the end of a long hallway, and McNeil emerged and opened fire with a stolen pistol, police said, killing Rivera and mortally wounding Mora, who was pronounced dead the following week. The rookie, Officer Sumit Sulan, shot and killed McNeil.

Mora, whose smiling portrait stood near his coffin, was the youngest of four children. “You don’t think of a big, strapping man,” Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said in his eulogy. “You think of your son. You think of a baby, you think of your baby.” He continued: “You put your head on their chest and you listen to their heart beat and you think of the life they’re going to lead.”

Mora’s brother, Wilson Mora, remembered a happy boy — “Mom showered us with love and you absorbed it like a sponge” — while his sister, Karina, speaking in the family’s native Spanish, said he was “full of dreams,” a boy who “lit up the house with his smile.”

When he became a police officer, he quickly showed himself to be a leader, said Inspector Amir Yakatally, his commanding officer in the 32nd Precinct. “A new breed of officer,” he said before recalling the fatal shooting.

“On the dreadful day, Wilbert took the lead and did everything right,” he said. “He asked all the right questions” and guided the junior officer, Rivera, down the hall. When the shooting began, “Wilbert used precious seconds while still in the line of fire to return fire,” Yakatally said, adding, “Know that he went out fighting.”

Adams praised Sulan’s quick thinking. “He’s a hero,” he said.

The shootings of Mora and Rivera punctuated more than a year of increased gun violence that emerged early in the pandemic in the city, prompting concern about public safety from City Hall to the streets outside. On Tuesday, on the eve of the funeral, an off-duty officer in Queens on his way to work was shot in the arm during an attempted theft of his car.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, in her second powerful eulogy in five days with just a month on the job — Rivera’s funeral was Friday and also filled the cathedral — sought to place this troubled time within the department’s long legacy.

“The NYPD is the most storied police department in the world,” she said. “Our chapters chronicle when we are bowed, but even in deep mourning, we are never broken. This moment, this time, is an all-hands.

“The story of the NYPD and this city is revered because when we are tested, we triumph. It’s riveting because when we are battered, we get up.” she said. “This execution devastates a family, rocks the soul of a department, touches the heart of a nation and tests the faith of this city.”

Mora’s coffin was brought to St. Patrick’s not on Wednesday for the funeral, as is custom, but on Tuesday, for a wake. It stayed there overnight, and two uniformed members of the department’s Ceremonial Unit kept vigil beside the coffin all night.

The bright morning brought thousands of police officers from all over the country, but mostly Mora’s fellow officers in New York. The scene outside the cathedral after past funerals has been likened to “a sea of blue,” and Sewell noted the “ocean of officers” outside the church doors.

But oceans and seas move and flow and crest, while the men and women lining Fifth Avenue on Friday formed a rigid navy blue ramrod, solid and unmoving. Mora’s coffin was carried outside on six uniformed shoulders and placed into a black hearse, the surrounding streets so quiet that a pigeon’s flapping wings were heard a block away. Office workers high above in Rockefeller Center pressed against the windows to watch.

Dozens of police motorcycles led a procession downtown, their low thunder ending the hushed quiet, and the hearse slowly followed, the thousands of uniformed observers forming an unbroken path that allowed the fallen man to pass.

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