By Jessica Easthope and Bill Miller
MIDTOWN — Wilbert Mora, a New York City police officer gunned down with his partner in a Harlem ambush Jan. 21, was eulogized Wednesday, Feb. 2 for his colossal size and heart to match.
Mora’s funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Cardinal Timothy Dolan as the celebrant. The Mass, which was concelebrated by Bishop Robert Brennan of the Diocese of Brooklyn, was attended by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and thousands of NYPD members.
From his older brother, Wilson, to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, Mora was described as a “gentle giant” and a much-loved “teddy bear.” They also told of how the 27-year-old policeman courageously faced danger and ultimately died in the line of duty, protecting the citizens of the city he loved.
“Everyone says you’re a big teddy bear of a man,” Wilson Mora said while eulogizing his brother. “But you were like that, even when you were little. Mom showered us with love, and you absorbed it like a sponge. So as an adult, I saw your love for your friends and for people come out in ways that others can’t.
“I just want you to know that I was always proud of you,” he said. “You chose a life of service to your community and to our adopted country. Your fellow officers were not only coworkers, they were friends and family. And now they’re my family.”
Mora was a boy when he came to the U.S. with his family from the Dominican Republic. He grew to be 6 feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds.
NYPD Inspector Amir Yakatally, commanding officer of Mora’s 32nd Precinct, said he was funny, outgoing, and a “gentle giant,” but “all business” when he had to be.
Mora, and Rivera, 22, were mortally wounded on Jan. 21 while answering a 911 call reporting a domestic disturbance call in Harlem. Rivera died of his injuries that night; Mora died four days later.
A third officer, Sumit Sulan, shot the suspect, Lashawn McNeil, 47, as he tried to flee the scene. McNeil died on Jan. 24. In his remarks, Mayor Adams, a former police captain, praised Officer Sulan for preventing more tragedy that fateful night.
Police Commissioner Sewell said she learned about Mora, the man, from his NYPD commanders and colleagues. She recounted his career, starting with his entry into the Police Academy in 2018. She said he was “the perfect candidate” to join the department.
“Wilbert and his family came to this country for an opportunity, safety, and security,” Sewell said. “No one had to tell him to become a police officer. It was all he ever wanted to do. It was the most loved, significant, and inextricable part of his life.
“I’m told the only close second was his PlayStation 5. But the threatening forces he faced on the screen were nothing like the malevolence that would take Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera from our lives.”
Sewell announced at the funeral that she had promoted officer Mora to Detective First Grade, as she did for Rivera at his funeral.
“Wilbert,” she said, “served this department bravely, honorably, as a colossal symbol of promise, not for the size of his frame, but for the goodness in his heart.”
It is a heart that literally lives on; Mora’s parents decided to donate it, along with his liver, kidneys, and pancreas to save the lives of five strangers. Patrick Lynch, president of the NYPD Police Benevolent Association, praised the family members for that decision. He told of watching them at the hospital just before Mora died.
“I wonder,” Lynch told the family, “where does a person like this get the strength to put on that uniform, put that shield on their chest, and get behind the wheel of that radio car and answer that next call? And then I met you.
“Because you made a courageous decision to save others’ lives,” Lynch added. “You made a decision to give the best of your son — the gold standard of life, the gold standard of his soul, his heart, his organs.”
Thousands of officers from the NYPD, across the country, and around the world, lined the streets outside St. Patrick’s and for more than 10 blocks along 5th Avenue to honor Mora. They all snapped to attention and saluted him as his casket was carried from the cathedral to a hearse.
Rivera’s wife paid tribute to Mora by showing up at the funeral mass and also posted on social media.
“Although I never met you, thank you for always being eager to work with my angel, regardless of him being a rookie,” Dominique Luzuriaga wrote in an Instagram post. “Take care of us.”
During Rivera’s funeral last week, Luzuriaga criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for his pledge to not prosecute certain crimes. She said all New Yorkers are less safe, a remark that drew a standing ovation.
No specific criticisms were made during Mora’s funeral, although Mayor Adams renewed his pledge to end the wave of gun violence that has gripped the city in recent years.
“Every day that I walk the streets of New York, the people of this city remind me to support our police and let them know we appreciate them,” the mayor said. “But our city is going to do more than thank you. We are going to give you the resources to fight this senseless violence.
“It is New Yorkers against the killers and we will not lose. We will protect our city.”