The New York Times

December 7, 2005


Mourning a Fallen Officer, and Paying Tribute to a 'True Hero'

By AL BAKER

The police officers, some 20,000 strong, lined up stone-faced in the cold in rows four and five deep yesterday, forming frozen rivers of dress blue uniforms that stretched for blocks around the New Life Tabernacle Church in Brooklyn.

Inside, the grief-stricken widow, the two children, the friends, the relatives and all the others remembered a life and tried to make sense of a death in the line of duty nine days ago.

It was during a routine pursuit of a speeding driver who had run a red light that Officer Dillon Stewart was shot through the heart - a wound that did not stop him from chasing his assailant in a feat of policing that officers of all ranks said defined his never-say-quit character. He was 35 years old and had been a police officer for five years.

Yesterday, he was eulogized just blocks from the spot in Flatbush where that fatal bullet was fired.

"Despite having been mortally wounded himself, Dillon summoned the courage and superhuman discipline to stay on his killer's trail," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who recounted Officer Stewart's final call in his remarks at the funeral. "It is nearly impossible to comprehend."

He added of Officer Stewart, whom he posthumously promoted to the rank of detective first-grade, "He never quit."

In all, those inside the packed, 1,500-seat church witnessed a nearly three-hour celebration of Officer Stewart's life: his birth in Westmoreland, Jamaica; his youth in Brooklyn, where he attended Public School 244 and was an honor student and a Boy Scout; his marriage, in 1996, to his wife, Leslyn; the fulfillment his dream of being a police officer when he was 30; raising two daughters and tirelessly fixing up their family home.

The ceremony, full of prayerful reflection, stirring gospel singing, a solo rendition of "Great is Thy Faithfulness," and an energizing Pentecostal eulogy by Bishop Micheal Mitchell, was a stark contrast to the scene outside: There, along Avenue D and snaking across surrounding streets, the officers stood shoulder to shoulder on snowy sidewalks in near-freezing temperatures, waiting patiently to bid farewell to their fallen colleague and get one last glimpse of his flag-draped coffin.

Aside from members of the city force, officers came from as far as Japan and Hawaii and from as near as Nassau County. They raised white-gloved hands to the brims of shining black hats and saluted. Black elastic bands stretched across their silver and gold badges. Police helicopters flew close overhead in a missing-man formation, and then Officer Stewart's body was accompanied by New York police motorcycles for the drive east to his final resting place, Pinelawn Memorial Cemetery on Long Island.

During the 9:30 a.m. service in a sanctuary lit by chandeliers and sunlight, Officer Stewart was remembered as a selfless man who regularly faced the dangers of policing with the composure of a veteran. He gave up the security of a desk job, as an accountant, for a life of public service. Though he chose risky assignments, working the midnight shift on a special patrol of trouble spots in a rough neighborhood, his eye for detail and his cool professionalism made him a mentor to several officers who worked with him.

He was a "true hero," whose bravery was a gift to the city, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose remarks in the church were punctuated by applause. "From now on, we will always be there for you," Mr. Bloomberg told Officer Stewart's family, which included his mother.

Throughout, words were separated by songs. The church was filled with flowers, some red, in the shape of a heart, others blue and white and in the shape of a police shield. Officer Stewart's wife clutched tissues and kissed their younger daughter, 5-month-old Samantha.

When it was Mrs. Stewart's turn to speak, the audience stood and applauded, then listened as she fought tears to describe her husband. He was, she said, "a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, an uncle, a cousin," and a friend. "He was thoughtful, caring, ambitious and resilient," she continued. "As a husband, he was mindful and considerate. He was very helpful. As a father, he was playful. He taught by action and showed great leadership."

In the next moments she cried, saying, "I will always hold him dear to my heart."

As typically happens when police officers are killed on duty, some of the law-and-order issues raised by Officer Stewart's killing were illuminated at the funeral . And politics crept in, as Mr. Bloomberg said not only that Officer's Stewart's would "killer meet justice," but also that his death should serve as a lesson.

"No one should have any doubts about the terrible devastation that guns can cause," Mr. Bloomberg said. "If that lesson has been finally and truly learned, then perhaps a blessing will derive from this tragedy, and we won't have to gather again to bid farewell to more young, brave and unselfish men like Dillon. If it hasn't been learned, then we will make it our mission to force some people in our society to accept that their negligence, their blind eyes, have a price, and we will hold them accountable for it."

Several city officials were there, including the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown; and the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, told Officer Stewart's family during the funeral that he was a hero for "the way that he lived," as well as how he died. Mr. Lynch also offered them words of comfort. "Yes, the good Lord goes before you," he said. "And we're all right behind you."

The funeral was an occasion for many officers who had lost touch to reconnect and for officers from afar to show their support. Deputy Chief Craig Taffaro came from New Orleans to say thank you to the New York officers who rushed to his community after Hurricane Katrina.

"We're a brotherhood of officers," said Chief Taffaro, a commander in Jefferson Parish, who said he was impressed by the number of New York officers at the funeral, which police officials placed at 20,000. Inspector Thomas Graham, who went to New Orleans in September as commander of an elite response unit based in the Bronx, said he, too, was touched by the number of officers.

"That's probably one of the biggest funerals I've seen in 33 years," Inspector Graham said.

Matthew Sweeney contributed reporting for this article.