Lisa Tuozzolo, the wife of an NYPD sergeant from Long Island killed in a Bronx shooting last month, never leaves home without a pack of tissues in her purse.
She said she keeps them close to wipe away tears when the grief of losing her husband, Paul Tuozzolo, overwhelms her.
“It’s too soon. It’s too fresh. It’s too raw. It’s too hard to think about,” Tuozzolo said during an interview.
Tuozzolo said her pain is compounded by the holiday season, when every twinkling light and holiday window serves as a heartbreaking reminder of her loss: a devoted husband and father who dedicated himself to helping those in need.
“I want to close myself up in a closet for the holidays, but I can’t . . . for my boys,” Tuozzolo said when asked how she and her sons have been coping. “I need to figure out what life needs to be like going forward for my boys and what will be important to them in terms of the holidays.”
With the help of relatives, friends and her family in blue, Tuozzolo, 41, says she is trying to move away from the pain and come to terms with the loss. “I have a lot of people around me that are keeping me up and keeping me strong,” she said.
Since her husband was killed, Tuozzolo’s parents have temporarily moved into her Greenlawn home, offering support and help with her sons, Austin, 4, and Joseph, 3. “They don’t necessarily need to be with me right there, holding my hand,” Tuozzolo said. “But the fact that I know they’re in the background, waiting for me in case I need them, is so important.”
She has kept her children on the same schedule they had before the shooting. She says she never pulled them out of school and makes sure they have the same time at night to watch television, read books and then take a bath before bed.
There have been trips to a Jets game at The Meadowlands and a visit to the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.
The family was shattered on Nov. 4 when Sgt. Tuozzolo, a 19-year veteran, was shot in the head in a confrontation with a man from Brentwood.
Tuozzolo and others were responding to a 911 call from a friend of the estranged wife of the gunman, Manuel Rosales, 35, who said he had broken into her home on Beach Avenue in the Van Nest section of the Bronx, police said. The wife and the couple’s 3-year-old son were in the apartment.
Shortly after the call, Rosales fled in his red Jeep.
Minutes later, Tuozzolo, the designated response sergeant, spotted the vehicle about a half-mile away at Bronx River and Noble avenues near Noble Playground, police said.
Tuozzolo, Sgt. Emmanuel Kwo, Officer Arvid Flores, and probationary Officer Elwin Martinez, a recruit who was just days into his field training, closed in on Rosales.
The Brentwood man drew his weapon and Tuozzolo warned the others, shouting “Gun, gun, gun!” Rosales opened fire, the first bullets in a 20-round exchange with police.
He struck Tuozzolo in the head and torso. Kwo was hit in the legs several times. Martinez managed to fire back and fatally shot Rosales. Both wounded sergeants were rushed to Jacobi Medical Center, but only Kwo survived. Tuozzolo was taken off life support hours after the shooting. He was 41.
Paul Tuozzolo was posthumously promoted to sergeant special-assignment at his funeral at St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, which was attended by thousands of police officers from across the country, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who delivered the eulogy.
“It is a rank and designation in line with a man who has made the supreme sacrifice,” O’Neill said.
At the funeral and every day that followed, Tuozzolo says she has had one simple message for anyone who crossed her path: “Tell everyone you love them every day,” she said with tears welling up. “Because you never know when it’s going to be your last time to tell them.”
Paul Tuozzolo joined the department in December 1997 and was first assigned to the 28th Precinct in Harlem. He eventually moved to the 25th and 26th precincts during the next nine years. During his stint at the 26th Precinct, a mutual friend introduced him to Lisa. Paul, who worked the midnight shift, would often meet Lisa before she left for work at a nearby school, sometimes bringing her breakfast.
Tuozzolo was soon promoted to sergeant, with the help of his wife, who said she helped him study for the exam. He was eventually reassigned to the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx.
Lisa Tuozzolo, now an assistant principal at West Islip High School, remembers her husband as a laid-back man who loved to wisecrack and keep everyone loose.
She said he loved to work with his hands, from cars to computers to construction. Paul Tuozzolo would regularly purchase a classic car with no engine and spend the next two months building it from scratch. Once fully assembled, he would sell it, hoping to soon find another car and start the process again. The latest car he had rebuilt was a late 1960s Plymouth Road Runner, she said.
Tuozzolo worked on cars with his brother and father when he was younger, and had an engine lift installed in his garage. He’s also reconstructed a baby blue Chevrolet pickup truck and a Mustang, affectionately known to his children as “Daddy’s superfast race car Mustang convertible,” the one they would take to visit family on the South Fork.
Lisa Tuozzolo said her husband also loved construction, rebuilding his entire basement and adding a home-theater system, complete with stadium seating. His wife’s heartbreak returns when she reflects on the plans they had: His retirement was just a year away, and Lisa and Paul talked about a family trip to Walt Disney World next summer and of spending quality time at home.
Paul Tuozzolo’s custom Jets jersey hangs on a closet door, untouched. It is one of the things she has not put away. The boys spot the jersey during bath time. It is emblazoned on the back with the number 75, the year Paul Tuozzolo was born. “That’s Daddy’s jersey,” the boys exclaim when they see it, she said.
Tuozzolo’s latest project had been a tree house he started to build in October for his children. There are no walls and no roof, but there are platforms and hanging ropes that Austin and Joseph can swing from.
Their father has become their favorite topic, and they ask nonstop questions about him and scour through old photos. “Kids are really resilient,” said Tuozzolo, as she dried her tears. “Way more than you ever expect them to be.”
Austin often dreams about his father and one recent morning the boy ran into Tuozzolo’s bedroom to tell her about the latest one, she said. In the dream, his father is alive and plays with him.
“It’s stuff like that that breaks my heart because I’m scared that my son is going to only have those memories of dreams rather than the experiences that he’s had with him,” Tuozzolo said through tears.
Tuozzolo wants her husband’s heroic legacy of service to emerge as an example to schoolchildren. A scholarship has been set up in his name. She knows it is up to her to mold her young family into her late husband’s image.
She tells them their father was caring, thoughtful and courteous.
“He was someone who risked his life for strangers,” she said. “I want my boys to remember their dad as a hero.”