The 22-year-old New York police officer who was shot while responding to a call in a Harlem apartment came from an immigrant family and grew up in a community where relations with the Police were strained, but joined the force to make a difference in the “chaotic city”, he once wrote.
“I know that something as small as helping a tourist get their bearings or helping a couple solve a problem will put a smile on someone’s face,” Jason Rivera wrote to his CO in 2020, while he was a police officer on probation.
Rivera and Officer Wilbert Mora were shot Friday night while responding to a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son. Mora, 27, suffered a serious head injury, police said.
The medical examiner ruled Rivera’s death a homicide on Saturday after an autopsy revealed he died of gunshot wounds to the head and torso.
Mora was still fighting for his life on Saturday, Mayor Eric Adams said. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, visited Mora and his family in the hospital and gave the injured officer a blessing, according to an archdiocese spokesman.
Police say the man who shot them, Lashawn J. McNeil, 47, was also seriously injured and hospitalized, authorities said. Police declined to comment later Saturday on Mora and McNeil’s conditions.
The shooting is the latest in a series of crimes that have angered the nation’s largest city.
In the three weeks since Adams took office, a 19-year-old cashier was shot while working late at night at a Burger King, a woman was shoved to death at a gas station metro and a baby was seriously injured. injured when she was hit by a stray bullet while sitting in a parked car with her mother. With the Harlem shooting on Friday night, four police officers had been shot in as many days.
And the city is recovering from its deadliest blaze in three decades, a Bronx apartment fire that killed 17 people.
“It’s hard to believe, but it’s only been three weeks, and it hasn’t stopped since,” Adams told residents during a roundtable on gun violence on Saturday. “But I want you to know very clearly that I’m more energetic. I’m not tired. I’m not stressed.
Rivera joined the force in November 2020.
Growing up in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, he noticed tension with the police, according to a brief essay titled “Why I Became a Policeman,” a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
“I remember one day when I saw my brother being stopped and searched. I wondered, why are we stopped if we’re in a taxi?” he wrote. “My perspective on the police and how they really bothered me.”
But eventually he noticed that the department was working to improve relations and he wanted to get involved.
“I realized how much my role as a police officer would have an impact in this chaotic city,” he wrote.
Domestic violence lawyer Stephanie McGraw, who knew Rivera from his work with the precinct, said he was energetic and enthusiastic.
“He was so keen to make a difference in this community,” said McGraw, founder of We All Really Matter.
Mora is also dedicated to the community, she said.
Police said the weapon used in the Friday night shooting, a .45 caliber Glock with a high-capacity magazine capable of holding up to 40 additional rounds, was stolen in Baltimore in 2017.
Both Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul said federal authorities need to do more to collect stolen weapons like the one used in the Harlem shooting. Hochul, during an appearance in Buffalo on Saturday, called it “a scourge of illegal firearms on our streets.”
“We’re taking thousands of guns off the streets,” Adams told reporters on Saturday. “But there is an endless stream that continues to cross our city’s borders.”
Adams said a woman who made an emergency call on Friday said she was ill and her son who came to look after her had become “problematic”. Adams said the woman did not specify the issue.
Authorities said three officers attended the apartment after the call. Officers spoke with the woman and another son, but there was no mention of a weapon, police said.
After Rivera and Mora walked from the front of the apartment down a narrow hallway to check on McNeil, he opened a bedroom door and began shooting, police said. Both officers were shot before they could draw their weapons and defend themselves, police said.
As McNeil tried to flee, a third officer who had stayed with McNeil’s mother outside the apartment shot McNeil and wounded him in the head and arm, Essig said.
“It was just not an attack on these brave officers,” Adams said Friday night. “It was an attack on New York City.”
Mora has been with the NYPD for four years.
McNeil was on probation for a 2003 drug conviction in New York. He also had several out-of-state arrests. In 1998 he was arrested in South Carolina on suspicion of illegally carrying a gun, but records show the case was later dropped. In 2002 he was arrested in Pennsylvania on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, Essig said.
Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany, New York, and Kathleen Foody in Chicago contributed to this report.