Current, former, and retired LEOs of all ranks, filled the block in front of 25 Pine Street in East New York, Brooklyn, for a candle-light vigil to honor Officer Peter Figoski, who was killed at this location three years earlier.
On December 12, 2011, Officer Figoski and his partner were responding as the backup team to another unit, who had been assigned to investigate a possible robbery in progress. The responding officers arrived and entered into the basement apartment of 25 Pine Street to investigate the call.
When the officers were assisting the supposed robbery victims in the rear of the apartment, two perpetrators, which were hiding in another room, slipped out behind the responding officers. As the two perpetrators were making their escape through a narrow stairwell out of the basement apartment, they were confronted by Officer Peter Figoski, a 22-year NYPD veteran, who was then fatally shot and killed.
The crowd was larger than expected, with residents and community leaders turning out in large numbers, attributing to the strong community relationship between the law enforcement community and the residents of East New York.
The night air was still-almost calming, as the neighborhood seemed extremely peaceful. The block was a one-way southbound street, lined with parked cars and small two-story houses. As the crowd started to spill over into the street from the sidewalks, Pine Street had to be blocked on both ends with marked police vehicles to ensure public safety.
As countless fraternal brothers and sisters, many with their friends and family members, started to congregate in small groups on the block, one could hear them reminiscing about the good old days or telling war stories, while others were being respectful and introducing each other.
The mixed emotional tones could be heard in the voices of the smalls groups talking about Pete. One small voice caught my ear from one of the groups; it was a little girl, no more than 7 years old who asked, “What a candle-light vigil?” An LEO in uniform got down on one knee and answered her, in a sweet, calm, cracking voice, fighting back the tears, “It is used to remember my friend, who got hurt really badly and went to heaven.” And at that very moment, the ceremony began, how uncanny.
The vigil started with the opening speaker, an NYPD chief, followed by a few words said by the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) President, an LEO and close friend of Pete’s, and Bob Figoski, representing the Figoski family.
As the speakers addressed the sea of blue, mustered in front of 25 Pine Street, there was not an open spot on the sidewalks or in-between the cars. The crowd was extremely quiet and incredibly attentive as they were listening to every word. You could hear, and see overhead, the NYPD’s Aviation Unit’s Helicopter conducting a missing man flyby, honoring one of our fallen brothers.
The ceremony was especially touching for Bob Figoski, Pete’s brother, who was trying to conceal his emotions as he was thanking the entire law enforcement community for their attendance. Bob expressed that he and his family are still overwhelmed by their continued support to honor his brother’s memory.
During the speeches, the flickering candle light illuminated the faces of the crowd, allowing for a glance of the feelings and thoughts being felt across the different decades of dedicated LEOs. The emotions could be easily seen, by some, as the tears rolled down their cheeks, while others were speechless. I could not help but to be reminded of a quote by Joshua Wisenbaker, “Tears are words the mouth cannot say nor can the heart bear.”
The ceremonies concluded with the Figoski family laying a wreath at the top of the basement stairwell, where Peter was taken from us on that tragic day. The wave of emotions that flooded my body at that very moment was overwhelming, as I had the luxury to work with Pete and had the honor of calling him a friend. I started to think about Pete and the little girl’s question at the beginning of the ceremony on what was the meaning behind a candle-light vigil. At the moment the little girl asked that question, my definition was synonymous with her father’s, however at the moment the wreath was placed at the top of the stairwell, my definition changed.
I would contest that in part a candle-light vigil is meant to honor and remember the fallen, but the true meaning is a testament to how the person lived their life. This ceremony and the large crowd was not only evidence, it was the ultimate testament to how Peter Figoski lived his life as a man, husband, father, brother, son, friend, and police officer. RIP Pete.
Scott Downs is fourth generation law enforcement officer. He is an Adjunct Criminal Justice Professor at Briarcliffe College. Scott’s has two decades of experience as a police officer and instructor. He serves in the private safety and security sector as an educator and consultant. Scott is a summa cum laude graduate of Saint Joseph’s College and holds a Master’s Degree from the Homeland Security Management Institute. Reach Scott at [email protected]