New York Daily News

April 14, 2014



Denis HamillFallen cop Dennis Guerra, killed in Coney Island arson, leaves legacy of devotion to duty and family  


At Monday’s funeral in Far Rockaway, family and 2,000 NYPD officers remembered the man who Mayor de Blasio said ‘was dedicated to his family, dedicated to duty.’ Guerra, 38, succumbed to smoke inhalation in a Coney Island fire on April 6 that cops say was ignited by a ‘bored’ kid.

By Denis Hamill


At Monday’s funeral in Far Rockaway, family and 2,000 NYPD officers remembered the man who Mayor de Blasio said ‘was dedicated to his family, dedicated to duty.’ Guerra, 38, succumbed to smoke inhalation in a Coney Island fire on April 6 that cops say was ignited by a ‘bored’ kid.

Davy Greaves peered from behind the fence of his housing complex on Beach 84th St. in Far Rockaway at an NYPD blue seawall of cops holding back the waves of a city’s grief for a cop who died in the line of duty.


Officer Dennis Guerra's widow, Cathy, holds the U.S. flag as she stands with her son in front of St. Rose of Lima Church in Far Rockaway, Queens, where Guerra's funeral was held Monday.


“I live right here in Far Rockaway,” said Greaves, a house painter. ‘But I was in Coney Island with my kids two Sundays ago when the two cops ran into that fire. I saw all the cop cars, fire trucks, ambulances. I had no idea what happened then.”

Greaves’ story was interrupted on Monday by the approaching percussion of the NYPD Pipes and Drums thumping like the broken hearts of a wife and four children who would be attending a Requiem Mass in St. Rose of Lima Church for a loving husband and father named Police Officer Dennis Guerra.
Guerra, 38, succumbed to smoke inhalation suffered in a Coney Island arson on April 6 that cops say was ignited by a “bored” kid whose insignificant name doesn’t belong in the same breath as Dennis Guerra’s.

“Never did I think that commotion I saw out in Coney would wind up as a funeral here in St. Rose’s,” Greaves said. “I sent all my kids to St. Rose’s. Now they’re having that poor cop’s funeral here. He had four kids. He died rushing into an apartment building like mine to save lives. Could have been my family. It’s just so, so sad. I had to come and pay my respects.”


NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra's son leans on top of the tombstone at his father's funeral Monday. Guerra died after inhaling toxic smoke in a Coney Island arson fire.

Directly in front of him facing St. Rose’s stood Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who has attended police funerals as commissioner in three major American cities.

And now as gulls wheeled in a baby-blue sky over the wind-swept Rockaways in Queens, the flower-laden hearse bearing the remains of Police Officer Guerra whispered up Beach 84th St. as the thumping drums ceased at once on a street so silent you could almost hear the tears drop. Then the pipers pierced the somber silence with “Amazing Grace,” which echoed across the Rockaways as it had scores of times after 9/11.

The hearse bearing the Guerra family slid to the church curb, long, ominous and as black as the 13th-floor corridor of the Coney Island housing project that Officers Dennis Guerra and Rosa Rodriguez rushed into to save the lives of strangers.


Officer Dennis Guerra, who died from smoke inhalation three days after rushing into Brooklyn fire.

Guerra’s widow, Cathy Guerra, and her four anguished children stepped out in a tight wedge of familial sorrow.

They were flanked on all sides by their extended family of police officers, a grieving group 2,000 strong.

Guerra’s casket was encased in a burial vault with a personalized lid full of symbols that are meaningful to the NYPD's fallen officers.

Guerra’s flag-draped casket was carried by eight NYPD pallbearers into St. Rose of Lima.
This wasn’t the family’s parish — the Guerras attend the smaller St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude Parish, farther out in the Rockaways. But for that moment — and forever — this was their church.

This was where they had come to say goodbye to Dennis Guerra — husband, father, cop — whose final tour would be to eternity.


The family of Officer Dennis Guerra at his funeral Monday.


Officer Dennis Guerra's casket is taken into the church.


The funeral was held at St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach, Queens

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray arrive at the funeral.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton was at the funeral for Guerra. "You are surrounded by a sea of blue here today," he said to Guerra's family. "Our family will always be your family."

Hundreds of officers were on hand for the funeral.


Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Officer Guerra would receive a posthumous promotion to first-grade detective, to the thunderous applause of the hundreds of officers who were present during his funeral.


Officers stand at attention as a hearse carrying Guerra's body drives by.

“Police Officer Dennis Guerra was dedicated to his family, dedicated to duty,” said de Blasio. “Duty always came first. . . . He ran into that building to save people’s lives.”

Bratton said Guerra followed in his father’s footsteps when he joined the NYPD. He was so proud of the work he was doing that he would send his pop text messages with photos of the drugs and guns he confiscated.

“They are saying, ‘Dad, I’m out there. I’m getting it done,’ ” Bratton said of the messages. “‘I’m starting the way you started. I’m continuing further the next generation of what you started.’

“The father and the son, each one proud of the other.”

This was before Guerra’s casket was taken to its final resting place and encased in a burial vault with a lid donated by Wilbert Funeral Services.

It was adorned with symbols dear to many fallen first responders — officers holding the folded Stars and Stripes, the mustachioed cops of yesteryear, Christ on the Cross.

And it was personalized for Guerra with two years that added to the heartbreak, 1975-2014.

Up the block from the church, Maria Cruz, who walked from her home on Beach 97th St. with her grandson Joshua, 7, found herself agreeing with what the mayor said. “I want to show Joshua that we need to pay respects for this brave policeman who died doing his duty,” she said. “The cop was also Spanish, and I want Joshua to see how many people respect him. I can’t believe a bored kid lit the fire that did this. If you’re bored, say a prayer to God.”

Davy Greaves watched the doors to the church close.

“I went to Coney Island again yesterday with my younger kids for the official opening,” said Greaves. “Going on the rides with my kids make me feel like a kid again. Beautiful time. But I thought about that cop who died from the fire. He would never again take his kids to Coney Island. Never. Instead, he winds up in a funeral in St. Rose’s. That’s what this ‘bored’ kid with the match did.”

With Corky Siemaszko