Twenty-two-year-old NYPD Officer Jason Rivera was killed and his partner 27-year-old Officer Wilbert Mora was critically wounded in a Harlem shooting Friday night after they responded to a domestic incident.
They were the fourth and fifth officers shot in the line of duty in the first 21 days of 2022, and the ambush attack left Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the entire NYPD and Mayor Eric Adams in an overwhelming state of shock, sadness and anger.
“Tonight, a 22-year-old son, husband, officer and friend was killed because he did what we asked him to do,” Sewell said during a press conference at Harlem Hospital, where officers from the 32nd Precinct had brought their gravely injured colleagues earlier that evening. “I am struggling to find the words to express the tragedy we are enduring. We’re mourning, and we’re angry.”
Hundreds of NYPD officers were present for the press conference, and Sewell, Adams and ranking NYPD members — including Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch — presented a united, grief-stricken front calling for the city to rally behind the Blue and help stop the spread of gun violence across the city.
“This was not just an attack on three brave officers. This was an attack on the City of New York,” said Adams, a former police officer himself. “And it is an attack on the children and families of this city. And we are not going to win this battle by dividing lines between us. We must save this city together. That is what we must do.”
That effort includes stopping the flow of illegal guns into New York City; Chief of Detectives James Essig pointed out that the weapon used to shoot both officers was a .45-caliber Glock equipped with a high-magazine cartridge that could hold up to 40 bullets.
The gun, Essig said, was reported stolen from Baltimore, Maryland in 2017.
Both Adams and Sewell pleaded for help from Washington to combat illegal guns in New York City.
“We’re going to honor the memory of this officer lost to gun violence by standing united against these killers and those who are arming them, Adams added. “They are co-conspirators to the violence we are witnessing in our city. We’re going to find these guns, and we’re going to find those who carry them and those who use them. We are committed to ending this.”
‘A senseless ambush’
Essig outlined the preliminary details of the “senseless ambush,” as he described it, which began at 6:15 p.m., when Rivera, Mora and a third 32nd Precinct officer responded to a reported family dispute inside a first-floor, one-bedroom apartment at 119 West 135th St.
Upon arriving, the officers met up with the caller, the mother of Lashawn McNeil, 47, with whom she had gotten into an argument, along with her other son.
After the woman informed the officers that McNeil was located in a bedroom in the rear of the premises, Officers Rivera and Mora walked down a hallway to approach the room, while the third officer remained in the living room.
“As our first officer approached the bedroom, the door swings open and numerous shots are fired, striking both officers, one fatally, and the other is here at Harlem Hospital in critical condition,” Essig explained.
McNeil then attempted to exit the location, and was confronted by the third officer, who fired two shots, striking him in the head and right arm.
Essig said the suspect has one prior New York City arrest for a felony narcotics conviction in 2003, and four arrests outside the Big Apple — including a 1998 arrest in South Carolina for weapon possession, and a 2002 collar for assaulting a police officer in Pennsylvania.
“This is a still active crime scene and the investigation is still continuing. We’re working through why this brutal, senseless ambush of two of our police officers occurred,” Essig said. “We’re asking anyone in the community who has information to reach out to the 32nd Precinct Detective Squad or CrimeStoppers for information.”
Cops in the crosshairs
In the first 20 days of 2022, three NYPD officers have been shot and injured in the line of duty, Commissioner Sewell noted Thursday. Just yesterday, a detective was shot during a drug raid on Staten Island.
“Our department is hurting. Our city is hurting. It is beyond comprehension,” Sewell noted. “We have four times this month rushed to the scene of NYPD officers shot by violent criminals in possession of deadly, illegal guns — four officers, five officers, shot. … Our detectives will work to piece this together, but as they do that, every NYPD officer will once again place a black mourning band across their shield. I ask you to please pray for them.”
Lynch, who often clashed with former Mayor Bill de Blasio over his handling of the NYPD, expressed a plea for unity between the city, officials and the NYPD in stopping gun violence.
“Hundreds and hundreds of police officers are standing here today because their hearts tell them they have to be here because they feel like they’re alone. We’ve got to end that here today,” Lynch said. “Our hearts are broken, we’re in shock, our knees are buckling. And we’re angry, because we’ve been here before. We’re angry, because we saw it coming. We’re angry, because we said it was going to happen, and it happened again.”
The union president urged New Yorkers to participate in the slain officer’s funeral and send a message of unity as well.
“We will bow our heads in sadness, but we need you, too,” Lynch added. “The public has to come. The public has to send a message to anyone that dares to harm a police officer, not here, not now, not today, not to us. We’re humbly asking you to come out and help us.”
In a statement, Governor Kathy Hochul said she was “horrified” by the shooting, and pledged her support to Adams and the city “and look forward to working with him and other leaders to continue to take meaningful actions to make New Yorkers safer.”
“I refuse to allow our cities to be gripped with fear. New Yorkers deserve action from their elected officials — and they will get it,” she vowed.
Hochul noted that earlier today, she declared a gun violence state of emergency through an executive order, sending in the New York State Police to assist the NYPD in fighting gun crimes in the Five Boroughs. Her executive budget also triples resources aimed at combating the flow of illegal guns into New York State, and boosting violence interrupter programs.
Fabien Levy, press secretary to Mayor Eric Adams, later tweeted before the 10:15 p.m. press conference that reports that both officers have perished were false.
The situation remains fluid, and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine tweeted that there is “significant misinformation” about the shooting.
There is significant misinformation about the Harlem shooting. I am here at the hospital with @nycmayor. One officer has died, the second is still fighting for his life. Please pray for him.
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) January 22, 2022