The weather was beyond miserable. By dusk on Tuesday, February 12, it had stopped snowing, but changed to sleet and freezing rain powered by strong winds.
Shelter Island Police Department Sergeant Terrence LeGrady was on duty that evening and had just stopped for his meal break.
“Somebody had a TV on and I looked up when a report came in that an officer in the city had been shot in Queens,” he said.
Sergeant LeGrady spent four years as a New York City Police Officer (NYPD) assigned to the 102nd precinct in Queens, and has been with the Shelter Island department since 2005. He immediately started texting his former NYPD partner, Detective Brian Simonsen, who was still working in the 102nd, to ask if everything was all right.
“I was just about to hit send, when I got a text saying it was Brian who had been shot,” Sergeant LeGrady said.
Police Chief Jim Read said, “We cut Terry loose” so he could leave and go to Detective Simonsen’s wife, Leanne, and take her to the city. The couple, who don’t have children, live just across the street in Calverton from Sergeant LeGrady, his wife Laura and their three sons, Terrence, 14, Conor, 12, and Drew, 9.
The unforgiving weather continued, with winds gusting as high as 35 mph, as he drove to North Ferry for the trip to Calverton. Sergeant LeGrady called home and asked Laura to cross the street to be with their friend until he could arrive from Shelter Island. He explained that Detective Simonsen has few family members left, and Leanne’s family is mostly in the Chicago area.
The ferry to Greenport was one of the longest crossings he’s ever made, he said, and it was not just because he was onboard a slow boat cautiously battling rough conditions.
An incident in Queens
Earlier that evening, Detective Simonsen and his partner had responded to a call with other officers of an armed robbery in progress in a T-Mobile store in the Richmond Hill section of the borough.
Sergeant Matthew Gorman and two uniformed officers entered the store and a man emerged from the back office and pointed a weapon — which was later determined to be fake — at the officers. It did not appear Detective Simonsen entered the store.
Seven officers fired shots, totaling 42 rounds, according to NYPD Chief of Department Terrence Monahan. All the shots fired were outside the store, both to the left and right of the entrance in about 11 seconds.
“This happens in seconds,” Chief Monahan said at a press briefing. “It goes from zero to 60. You’re investigating a possible crime and then all of a sudden someone’s charging at you pointing what you believe to be a firearm simulating firing at you. It raises everything very quickly.”
Detective Simonsen, 42, a 19-year veteran of the NYPD, was shot in the chest and killed by the friendly fire. Sergeant Gorman was shot in the leg and is recovering.
That night, on his way to Calverton, Sergeant LeGrady received the news that his former partner, and best friend, had been killed.
“I was worried, with social media, that travels so fast these days, that Leanne would learn of his death before I could get there,” he said. Death notifications always have to be done in person, he added.
‘Lean on me’
When Sergeant LeGrady left the NYPD to take the position with the Shelter Island department, he and his family moved to Calverton, and Detective Simonsen and Leanne bought the house across the street.
“Our families were always together,” the sergeant said, in and out of each other’s homes, with all holidays spent together. The three LeGrady boys referred to Detective Simonsen as Uncle Brian.
“He was the kindest, the sweetest man you’ll ever meet,” Sergeant LeGrady said. He noted that his friend’s nickname was “Smiles,” because “he lit up every room he ever entered.”
But tragedy was no stranger to Detective Simonsen. He was 15 when his younger sister, 13-year-old Melissa, was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing a street in Riverhead. Their father, Dr. Paul Simonsen, a local dentist, died six months later.
Sergeant LeGrady and Detective Simonsen graduated from the NYPD Police Academy in October 2000, but never met during training. They were assigned as partners in the 102nd, and their bond was immediate. Detective Simonsen was an exemplary officer, and one who “could enter a chaotic situation, and just by his presence, calm everyone down,” Sergeant LeGrady said.
On September 11, 2001, the two officers responded to the terror attacks in lower Manhattan and were on duty there for a full week.
The two men were not just partners and friends, Sergeant LeGrady said. “We became brothers.”
When he arrived at the Simonsen residence Tuesday night, “Leanne was going through every emotion you can imagine,” the sergeant said. “‘Terry,’ she said to me, ‘please, please tell me Brian is O.K.’ I had to tell her that Brian had passed.”
The terrible notification had one positive aspect, he said. “I’m glad it was me, that I could help comfort her, that she could lean on me. I didn’t want her to hear it from anyone but me.”
Because of the weather, a helicopter could not be dispatched to take the widow to the city. Sergeant LeGrady drove, with an escort of vehicles dispatched from the Suffolk County, Nassau County, New York City and New York State Police departments.
“Even with the escort, it was slow going with the weather,” Sergeant LeGrady said. “It was a very … very emotional time.”
Bringing Brian home
There was a swarm of police and media outlets outside Jamaica Hospital in Queens where the victims had been taken. Finding a back entrance, Sergeant LeGrady and Leanne met “with some NYPD brass and then we were taken to see him,” the sergeant said.
His voice catching a bit, and taking a deep breath, he continued: “They had him covered with a police department flag.”
It was pulled back so they could see him.
Detective Simonsen had requested his organs be donated, and that took some time, Sergeant LeGrady said, because the body had to be removed to the Bronx to a hospital there for the procedures.
It took awhile to finally bring him home.
“There will never be another one like him,” the sergeant said.
He and Laura and the boys had planned a cruise for next week, with the kids off from school, a nice getaway from work and routines.
“We were going to leave Monday,” he said. “But now, I’ll be at Brian’s wake.”
His brother’s funeral will be on Wednesday.