HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y. (FOX 5 NY/AP) - Thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world lined suburban streets in Hampton Bays to honor NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen Wednesday morning. Hundreds more filed into the Roman Catholic Church of St. Rosalie to remember the 19-year veteran of the force who dedicated his life to helping others.
"His infectious personality made you want to be around him, his oversized personality led his friends to start calling him 'Smiles' because he was always smiling and trying to include everyone in his life," said Suffolk County Police Officer Shawn Peterson, Simonsen's cousin.
Simonsen was killed by friendly fire at the scene of an attempted robbery in Richmond Hill, Queens, last Tuesday.
He and six other officers opened fire on a robbery suspect who police say pointed what appeared to be a handgun. Simonsen's partner, Sgt. Matthew Gorman, was hit in the leg and arrived at the funeral in a wheelchair.
"The only two people responsible for Brian's death, the only people, are the career criminals" involved in the robbery, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said firmly, delivering a eulogy in a voice sometimes choked with emotion.
To the devastated men and women of the 102nd Precinct, where Simonsen worked, and to officers around the city, O'Neill said: "Thank you for your dedication."
"Always remember who you are, what you do and why you do it," he said. "Continue to be proud of that" while honoring Simonsen's legacy.
Officials said he made close to 600 arrests and was someone who approached danger fearlessly.
"We all know he could've taken that fateful day off but that's not the human being was," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "He felt his neighborhood needed him and when he served he felt he had to be there."
Ricky Waters held back tears as he reminisced about Simonsen, his former partner and true friend.
"I will miss the comfort of having Brian sitting in front of me in the office, his infectious laughter and the way he lit up a room... I will miss my partner but mostly I will miss my friend," Waters said.
During the service, O'Neill posthumously promoted Simonsen to detective first grade and spoke about a dedicated member of the force who drove more than 100 miles every day to protect the neighborhood he worked in as if it were his own.
"We honor Brian's memory when we pick up where he left off," O'Neill said. "We won't ever finish his work but the respect is in the effort. It's in hearing the call for help and answering it."
And even though he is no longer physically here, the veteran detective will continue to help others through organ donation.
Simonsen, 42, lived in Calverton with his wife, Leanne, a nurse. He grew up nearby. Neighborhood kids knew him as "Uncle Brian."