It's been 30 long years since the brutal assassination of rookie NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, who was shot in the head by a gang of drug dealers on February 26, 1988, while on duty in Jamaica, Queens.
Byrne, the grandson of an Irish immigrant from Co. Wicklow, was only 22 years old, and his murder jarred the nation at a time when crime in New York was rampant.
The family Byrne left behind thinks of him every day, and on Wednesday, February 21, they will celebrate his short but significant life at a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue with Cardinal Timothy Dolan as celebrant. February 21 would have been Byrne’s 52nd birthday.
“There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, but time doesn’t heal this kind of a loss. It was a great tragedy for our family,” an emotional Larry Byrne, Eddie’s elder brother and the current NYPD deputy commissioner for legal matters, told IrishCentral's sister publication the Irish Voice.
“For us as a family Eddie’s death still feels like it happened yesterday. The pain never goes away.”
Byrne was gunned down in the early hours of February 26 as he patrolled a home in Jamaica owned by a family due to testify against local drug gangs. He was on guard outside the home in an NYPD car when one of the perpetrators distracted him while another shot five bullets into his head. Two others who also confessed their guilt in the shocking crime acted as lookouts.
Sentencing guidelines at the time allowed the judge to impose a maximum term on each of 25 years to life, with parole hearings due every two years after the minimum sentence was served. Since 2012, the Byrne family has been going before the Parole Board to plead that Eddie’s killers remain jailed for life.
“We remind the board of the horrific details of the crime, that it was an attack not just on Eddie but all police officers. It was an attack on the rule of law,” Byrne said.
“We can never forget how bad New York was in those days. It was a different city. No one wants to go back to those days.”
The killing of Byrne made headline news around the U.S. at the time. President Ronald Reagan reached out to the family, and his White House successor George H.W. Bush campaigned with Byrne’s badge in his pocket. More than 10,000 police officers from around the U.S. and the world attended his funeral.
Larry Byrne, an attorney who worked in private practice and for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., is reminded of his brother’s sacrifice every day.
“I go to work every morning and I get to walk past his name on the wall of heroes in the lobby,” he says. “We had a family birthday celebration over the weekend for my eldest son who never met his uncle. There was an empty seat because Eddie wasn’t there.”
Byrne’s father, a retired NYPD officer, passed away three years ago. His mother, now 80, is alive, and February is a difficult time for her.
“Between Eddie’s birthday and the anniversary of his assassination, it is not easy. A parent should never, ever have to bury a child,” Byrne said.
Hosting the Mass on the 21st, the day of Eddie’s birthday, was a perfect way to honor his sacrifice and to celebrate the way he lived his life, Byrne says. The family is heartened that 30 years on, people still vividly remember Eddie’s bravery.
“People are coming from all over the country, retired cops, people who worked with Eddie and people who went to school with him. Most of the cops who worked with Eddie in the 103rd Precinct didn’t even get a chance to know him because he only had a chance to work there for a few weeks before he was murdered.”
Eddie Byrne left a legacy that will never, and should never, be forgotten. All are welcome at the Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, on Wednesday, February 21 at 10 a.m. to celebrate the life of a true hero.