By Christina Santucci
It was a somber sea of blue on Beach 84th Street Monday morning as loved ones and colleagues attended a funeral for a Queens police officer who died after he was critically injured responding to a Brooklyn blaze.
Thousands of NYPD’s Finest and Bravest joined family, friends, city officials and volunteer emergency responders for the mass at St. Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach in honor of Police Officer Dennis Guerra.
Guerra, 38, had raced with his partner, Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, to evacuate tenants from a Coney Island housing development the afternoon of April 6 after 911 calls came in about a fire. The Far Rockaway resident and father of four was severely injured and died Wednesday morning, the NYPD said.
Three days later, Guerra was remembered by loved ones as a grill master, handyman and jokester.
“I believe he liked cooking just so he could get the family together,” said the police officer’s brother-in-law, Curtis Mitchell, as he addressed the crowd.
Mitchell said he first met the late police officer 25 years ago.
“I watched this kid go from a scrawny teenage bike-riding, skateboarding stunt master to a genuine, loving, caring, hardworking and respectful adult. Dennis was a great son who adored and cherished his parents tremendously, always wanting to make them proud,” he said.
Mitchell said his brother-in-law was a loving husband to his wife and father to his four children — Kathleen, 20; Jonathan, 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7.
“It is going to terribly difficult not having you in our lives and just down the block, but I know you will be in heaven smiling down on us,” Mitchell said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described Guerra’s legacy in the Police Department. Guerra’s father, Dennis, had been a detective in Queens and his mother, Miriam, had worked as a school safety officer.
“He probably never told his dad outright that he wanted to be a cop like him, but he never missed a chance to ask him everything about the adventures of being a New York City detective,” the police commissioner said.
Guerra first served as a school safety officer and then a Corrections officer before joining the NYPD eight years ago, Bratton said.
“Being a cop in New York City is a high-stakes game,” the police commissioner said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Guerra had worked to help others during Hurricane Sandy and then took refuge with his family in a loved one’s home after his own Far Rockaway house was damaged by the storm.
“Because the whole family was such a wonderful group of animal lovers, there were almost as many dogs as people there,” the mayor said.
Guerra was praised by de Blasio for his valor on the job – coming to the rescue at a car fire on the Belt Parkway by pulling a boy from the vehicle just before an overheated tire exploded and most recently responding to the Coney Island fire, which ended his life.
“Without a heartbeat of hesitation, he and Officer Rodriguez did what so many wouldn’t have had the courage to do,” the mayor said.
Guerra and Rodriguez, both from Housing Bureau Police Service Area 1, were critically injured after they were overcome by smoke on the building’s 13th floor, police said. Firefighters found them unconscious on the hallway floor, and emergency personnel rushed both to the hospital, the NYPD said.
Marcell Dockery, 16, was initially charged with two counts of assault, arson and reckless endangerment in connection with the fire, police said, and the teen was also indicted on a felony murder charge Friday, the Brooklyn district attorney said.
“Let’s keep [Rodriguez] in our hearts and our prayers today as she fights for her life,” de Blasio said.
At the conclusion of the funeral, Guerra’s flag-draped coffin was carried out of the church while “Taps” was played. An American flag was folded and presented to his family.
“To many people, Dennis will be remembered as a New York City police officer who performed a selfless act, investigating a fire with the intent of saving lives,” Mitchell said. “He was recently called a hero, but to all of his family, Dennis was always a hero and long before. He will continue to live on in our hearts and memories as such.”
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at [email protected] by phone at 718-260-4589.