Several thousand mourners, among them New York politicians and police officers from across the country, packed a Queens church Friday night at a somber and mostly silent wake for one of two NYPD officers shot to death in a patrol car last Saturday.
Lines to get into the 800-capacity Christ Tabernacle Church in the Glendale section of Queens moved slowly and stretched across several blocks, with some waiting hours to honor Officer Rafael Ramos, 40.
Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu, 32, were gunned down in Bedford-Stuyvesant by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who then shot himself to death in a nearby subway station. Brinsley had earlier shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore County, Maryland, and posted threats against police on social media, law enforcement officials said. Ramos and Liu were posthumously promoted to the rank of first-grade detective, NYPD officials said Friday.
The wake was closed to the news media, but several who attended described a silent scene inside the standing-room-only church, except for emotional tributes from family and friends.
Evelyn Roman, who said her son and daughter grew up with Ramos, recalled the officer as a great influence on both children.
"He was the sweetest person," she said.
New York-area leaders and politicians, including NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, arrived in the late afternoon to a grim scene where tearful officers consoled one another. Later, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came to pay respects and told reporters he planned to form a panel to review the shootings and bring the findings to the State Legislature to enact new laws for police safety.
"This is first and foremost a very personal tragedy for two very beautiful families," Cuomo said. "We need concrete steps for this situation, and how can we affect the criminal justice system and how can we keep police safe. These were two police sitting in a car. Now they're gone."
The 7 p.m. memorial service was broadcast on a large screen to the overflow crowd outside the church, which included dozens of NYPD officers. Inside, Ramos' eldest son, Justin, and Ramos' sister, Cindy, gave heart-wrenching tributes to the fallen officer.
"Even though I didn't say it as much as I should, I love you from the deepest depths of my soul," his sister said through sobs. "My brother, my heart aches so much right now. Please pray for me as I know you always did. Help me understand why God took you from me so soon."
Justin Ramos called his father his "rock" and his "absolute best friend."
"What happened to my father was a tragedy but his death will not be in vain," he said. "My dad was a hero. He touched so many lives and will continue to do so."
Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived at 9 p.m., at the end of the wake, and met with Ramos' family inside for 10 minutes, the NYPD said. Earlier, the church drew officers from as far away as Utah and Louisiana. New Orleans police Capt. Michael Glasser said he and a handful of New Orleans police officers came "to show support and unity for the work NYPD does and the work we all do."
Inside the church, the mood was dark, said Nassau County police union president James Carver. "It's not every day you see a police officer in full uniform laid out in a casket," Carver said. "There is not any death like the assassination of a police officer and the impact it has on society."
He said more than 500 Nassau police would attend today's funeral as a sign of solidarity. "This anti-police sentiment is troubling because we're the good guys," Carver said.
Outside, a half-dozen counterterrorism officers and at least four police dogs monitored the area. Nearby houses bore handwritten signs that read: "de blasio should resign, RIP PO RAMOS, GOD BLESS The NYPD, WE HONOR YOU, WE RESPECT YOU!!!"
Earlier in the day, a small plane pulling a pro-police, anti-de Blasio banner flew above the Hudson River. A week ago, scores of officers turned their backs to the mayor while he walked past them at the Brooklyn hospital where Ramos and Liu were treated.
Union officials have said de Blasio facilitated a hostile environment toward police with his public stance during weeks of protests after an announcement that the Staten Island district attorney would not indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner, who died of an apparent chokehold.
The killings of Ramos and Liu ramped up emotions in the already tense national debate over police conduct. New York police have arrested six people accused of threatening officers since the two were slain. A seventh man was arrested Thursday on gun charges after a bystander allegedly overheard him making threats against police officers and talking about guns in his home.
Ramos' funeral will be held at the same location Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden has said he will attend.
Funeral arrangements for Liu have yet to be announced.
Ramos, who joined the NYPD in 2012 after working as a school security officer, was a lifelong Brooklyn resident. He was married with two sons: Justin, who attends Bowdoin College in Maine, and another son in middle school.
The Silver Shield Foundation, a charity founded by the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, has set aside $40,000 for the education of Ramos' sons. Bowdoin College said it will cover the older son's education costs as long as he remains a student there.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity created after 9/11, says it is working to pay off the home mortgages of the slain officers.
With Maria Alvarez, John Asbury, Anthony M. DeStefano, Jo Napolitano, and Darran Simon