CALVERTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The loss of the NYPD detective who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Tuesday night is being felt especially hard on Long Island.
Det. Brian Simonsen had 19 years with the NYPD, all of them at the 102nd Precinct where he started on patrol and was later elevated to detective.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill called Simonsen a great investigator who was held in very high esteem, but to his loved ones in his home town he will always be “Smiles,” and loved by all.
Simonsen was adored in his Calverton and Riverhead community where he grew up and settled with his wife, LeAnne, a nurse.
They didn’t have children, but they opened their home to all the neighborhood kids and had tight, lifelong friendships. Those friends and neighbors are now stunned and in mourning.
“I heard it early, a Queens cops was shot and I said, ‘Jeez, I hope that wasn’t Brian,'” neighbor Harry Goldbach said.
Their worst fears were realized when neighbors learned the fallen cop in Queens was a native son of eastern Long Island.
Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith released the following statement: “Detective Brian Simonsen was a lifelong resident, friend and active member of the Riverhead community. This is a heartbreaking loss for the NYPD, and our town. So many members of our community have reached out with stories of a profoundly kind man, always willing to put others’ needs before himself. The Town of Riverhead’s thoughts and prayers are with the Simonsen family during this deeply tragic time.”
Simonsen, 42, was the spark of his Calverton neighborhood.
“He was probably the best guy I ever knew in my life. He was one of my best friends. Just a terrific guy,” Goldbach said. “There’s always like 25-30 people at his house for a party, unbelievable.”
“Overall, great guy. He had a million friends. He was really nice to everybody, had his door always open. He let us come over and hang out and watch football. The kids were always welcome,” neighbor Dave Mosciatti added.
“He was such a friendly guy. He was always outside. He always waved hello. He welcomed everyone with open arms,” another neighbor said.
The Simonsen family is all too familiar with tragedy.
While at Riverhead High School, where he was known as “Smiles” for his ever-present smile, Simonsen’s family was rocked by the loss of his 13-year-old sister, who was struck by a car crossing the street.
Months later, Brian lost his father.
But friends say he never lost his charm and humor.
He was captain of the high school football team and beloved by a close-knit group of friends.
“When someone passes away you say he was the greatest person who ever lived. Brian Simonsen was the greatest person who ever lived,” said his former NYPD partner Terrance Legrady, who said Simonsen was knowns “Uncle Brian” to everyone’s kids.
“If your kid was missing a baseball mitt, he’d go buy a brand new mitt for your kid. He was the most genuine, pure person,” Legrady said.
Now the home he recently renovated has been flooded by tears. Flags in the neighborhood have been lowered to half staff and adorned with blue and black ribbon.
“He was just an all around good guy who would give his shirt off his back for anybody,” a friend said.
One year shy of potential retirement, he didn’t have to be at work Tuesday, but wanted to end a robbery pattern that was endangering lives.
“Brian brought joy and light to the world. New York was just a small portion of that. But the world lost an, honest to God, one of the best,” Legrady said.
Simonsen traveled 65 miles to and from his job every day in Queens. Testament, Legrady says, to his dedication.
A police caravan drove Simonsen’s body from a Bronx hospital past an FDNY tribute to a funeral home in Mattituck, Suffolk County where officials lined the entrance in salute. He’s survived by his wife Leanne, mother and legions of friends.