Twenty-five years ago, a stunned city awoke to the news that rookie NYPD patrolman Edward Byrne had been savagely murdered in the early morning by paid killers as he guarded the home of a witness in a drug case.
On Tuesday, hundreds gathered at the corner of Inwood Street and 107th Avenue in South Jamaica to remember the 22-year-old officer, and to recall a city forever changed by his death.
“Eddie loved football, hunting and fishing,” his eldest brother Larry said. “He was into [the band] Journey and some hard rock music. And he had always wanted to be a cop like our father.
“When he graduated from the academy, he bought himself a Dodge Ram pickup truck. He drove it to work that night ...”
Byrne’s parents, Matt and Ann, and two of his brothers were saluted by more than 100 police officers, including many from the 103rd Precinct, as they were escorted to their seats for the ceremony on 107th Avenue.
Byrne’s family — both from Long Island, where he grew up and from the NYPD and 103rd Precinct — have come back to the intersection every year, usually at night, and sometimes in torrential rain or snow.
“Twenty-five years ago, we made a promise,” Inspector Charles McEvoy, current commander of the 103rd, said. “We promised that we would never forget Edward Byrne.”
The house on the southeast corner that Byrne had been watching has long since been torn down and replaced with modern homes.
Floral wreaths, one done as a replica of Byrne’s badge with the number 14072, were displayed with two framed portraits of Byrne on the southwest corner of the intersection, less than 10 feet from the spot where his patrol car sat that morning.
Assistant Chief James Secreto, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South, said 25 years has done little to heal the pain and the shock.
“It was one of those things where you always remember where you were when you heard it,” he said.
New York City in 1988 was in the midst of drug wars in many sections, and Byrne was assigned to the 103rd Precinct which covers Jamaica, Hollis and Lakewood.
Residents in the house had been helping police and prosecutors in their effort to tackle the drug problem in the neighborhood, and police protection followed after the family had been threatened and their house firebombed.
The killers approached Byrne’s patrol car and shot him five times. He was pronounced dead at Mary Immaculate Hospital, five days after his 22nd birthday.
He would be the first of seven New York City police officers to die in the line of duty in 1988.
Drug kingpin Howard “Pappy” Mason was in prison when he ordered a hit on a police officer, any police officer, intending to intimidate anyone else thinking of cooperating, and to send a message to the police.
He could not have miscalculated more completely.
The city rose up. Police throughout the borough began an all-out war on the drug trade, including the formation of a new Tactical Narcotics Task Force, also known as TNT.
President Ronald Reagan personally telephoned Byrne’s parents. President George H.W. Bush would display badge 14072, a gift from Matt Byrne, in the White House.
“People said ‘Enough is enough,’” Pat Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said on Tuesday. “The world has changed since Eddie Byrne was killed in the line of duty ... and every child who has been born here since then is safer because of him.”
The gunmen and lookouts were arrested within a week. All four were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, and all have been denied parole in the last three months.
Mason in 1989 was convicted on an array of federal charges, including Byrne’s murder. He is serving life without parole in a federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colo.
Byrne’s framed portrait is displayed prominently near the main desk in the 103rd Precinct. McEvoy and Lynch said he serves as an inspiration to all officers who pin their badges on each day in service of the city, the youngest of whom were not yet born when his life was cut short.
“Eddie Byrne is watching over them as their guardian angel,” Lynch said to the Byrne family.
“Your loss, the pain you go through every day, pushes us onward,” he said. “He gives us the inspiration every day to do what we do.” .