Sunnyside mourns hero cop

By Bill Parry

Hundreds of police officers, FBI field agents and the head of the New York Field Division, representatives of other federal law enforcement agencies and a contingent of U.S. Navy Seals filled the pews of the Church of St. Teresa in Woodside to pay their respects to one of the NYPD’s top cops.

,More than 1,000 people attended the funeral last week just blocks away from where Detective Harry Hill grew up.

Hill had risen through the ranks of the NYPD since joining the Transit Police in 1990. He was a 9/11 First Responder before he was promoted to detective in 2008. He was assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force where he handled security for all the major events in New York City and traveled the world investigating “sensitive cases.”

He was remembered by former partners as a great cop, a sharp detective and a terrific person, according to NYPD Sergeant Jim Braunstein. “He was so unique in that everybody loved him, even the bad guys,” Braunstein said.

When Hill was assigned toTransit District 2, his headquarters was in the World Trade Center. After 9/11 he worked at Ground Zero almost every day for a year, according to his former partner Patrick Noonan. “Even though he wasn’t a commander, he actually led everyone when he was down there,” Noonan said.

Hill’s commander, Chief James Waters, eulogized him, saying, “I would see Harry at special events and think there’s something special about Harry. Why was this guy always smiling – what’s he so happy about?”

Waters called what happened to him on March 26 “unimaginable.” That is when Hill went to his rheumatologist’s office for a cortisone shot to relieve the pain he felt from arthritis and gout in his knee, a condition that might have been a result of his exposure to toxins during his year at Ground Zero, sources said. After the shot, Hill’s blood pressure dropped immediately and he went into cardiac arrest, according to his brother-in-law Jim Nicholson. EMS performed CPR and took him to NYU Langone, where he never regained consciousness.

Nicholson added that his brain was deprived of oxygen for 10 to 11 minutes and he went into anaphylactic shock, a very serious allergic reaction. He was removed from life support on April 6 and died a short time later.

The NYPD said that the chief medical examiner would determine the cause of death. Detective Hill was only 46.

Days after the funeral, before visiting his brother’s grave at Calvary Cemetery, Ray Hill said, “Everybody thought he was Superman, but he was just Harry to me. My brother was half my life. Me and my family are devastated by this.”

During the funeral mass, Monsignor Steven A. Ferrari said, “Our hearts are filled with shock, disbelief and a sense of injustice. That someone so young was taken from us. How could this happen? Why did this happen?”

Braunstein would later say that Hill’s death “went through us like a bullet through the head, the floor dropped out on us.” It had the same effect in Sunnyside where he was an immensely popular figure.

George Heerdt, a retired FDNY firefighter and longtime friend of Hill’s said, “Harry was good friends with millionaires, movie stars and sports stars and he was also friends with street guys, the ones he grew up with, and he always treated everyone the same and that’s what everyone respected about him.”

Donald “Dondi” Dunbar remained best friends with Hill for over 30 years.

“This guy was beyond special, he could go anywhere in the world with his millionaire friends but he always came back to the Greenpoint Lounge for card games, sometimes two or three times a week, always around his schedule. This is such a bad way for his story to end.”

Tom Norton was a partner of Hill’s back when he broke in with Transit District 2. “We had lost touch for a lot of years, but one day I bumped into him and he invited me to one of his card games with his friends and rekindled our friendship. I was so grateful for that.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) knew Hill and attended his wake last week. “Anytime we lose a member of our NYPD, it is a tremendous loss for our city,”Crowley said. “My friend Detective Harry Hill not only had the respect and admiration of his peers, but also the Sunnyside community where he grew up. He left us much too soon and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

Norton also told a story about Hill attending his grandfather’s funeral on Long Island in 1993. “He was late catching the train at Penn Station,” he said. “That train he missed turned out to be the one Colin Ferguson shot up. That’s the type of luck he had. That’s why it’s so crazy he went out this way.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.