At Christ Tabernacle, a megachurch in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens with thousands of members, an usher known as Ralph had no small task come Sundays. Dressed in a suit, he helped mothers handle baby carriages, steered the elderly to the elevator and personified the “little” in a self-described “big little church” by making churchgoers feel at home.
“He had an infectious smile,” said the Rev. Ralph Castillo, one of the church’s 18 pastors. “When I think of Ralph I think of his smile and his consistency. He didn’t have to be there. This is something he chose to do. He was faithful and consistent.”
On Friday, thousands of people were expected to walk through the doors of that same church to mourn Ralph, as Officer Rafael Ramos was known. Officer Ramos, 40, was one of two police officers killed on Saturday as they sat in their squad car in Brooklyn, shot by an assassin targeting the police. Services for his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, 32, are being delayed until members of his family can make arrangements to travel from their home in China.
The wake and memorial service were expected to draw mourners from all corners of the city – friends and strangers alike – as well as city and Police Department officials who put aside their divisions momentarily to pay their respects to “a humble man” willing to help in any capacity, as a statement posted on the Christ Tabernacle website described Officer Ramos.
“This is a tragic loss for us as a church but we are committed to Maritza, Jaden and Justin to give them what Ralph gave us week in and week out,” the statement said, referring to Officer Ramos’s wife and two sons.
A group of about 15 mourners, some carrying a single white rose, already had lined up by the church’s entrance before noon, waiting to go in for the viewing, which began at 2 p.m. A giant Christmas wreath with festive ornaments decorated the front of the brick building. Church officials said only the family and members of the New York Police Department would be inside the church for the 7 p.m. memorial service. But they said they planned to set up several jumbo screens at a nearby gas station and other spots in the area so that the expected large crowds could watch the service. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10.
“Today we weep with the Ramos family, the New York Police Department and the nation as we mourn the loss of our dear brother,” Mr. Castillo said, standing outside the church. “He was a gift to our church.”
Neighbors milled around the church. Friends who lived five blocks away, Delia Ramos, 73, and Sal Conti, 72, said they came to pay their respects even if they feared the event could turn violent. “We just had breakfast at the diner and the officers there all had bulletproof vests,” Mr. Conti said. “They can’t even relax. They have to worry somebody will shoot them. It’s a shame.”
Ms. Ramos said: “I hope that things get better between the community and the police. All this animosity is a horror.”