BROOKLYN – Maritza Ramos put up a Christmas tree this year, because she didn’t want to disappoint the youngest of her two sons, Jaden.
But Christmas will once again be painful for Ramos and her two sons. It will follow the first anniversary of a double police execution in Bedford-Stuyvesant that claimed the lives of Rafael Ramos, Maritza’s husband, and his partner, Wenjian Liu.
“We’re never really going to understand it,” Mrs. Ramos said from the living room of her temporary apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “But we have to accept it.”
40 year old Rafael Ramos, known as Ralphie, was working a 7 am to 4 pm shift on December 20, 2014, assigned with a patrol car partner, Wenjian Liu, to the city’s Critical Response Team detail.
The two were sitting on a corner in Bedford-Stuyvesant, by Tompkins Houses. This was in the 79th Precinct—and not within the confines of the 84th Precinct, where the two normally worked.
At 2:47 pm, 28 year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley—who had just taken a bus to Brooklyn from Baltimore—ambushed the officers as they sat in their car.
Brinsley, who had a record of at least 19 arrests, shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, before ranting on the Internet that he was going to “put wings on cops.”
He claimed he was exacting revenge for the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The shooting followed weeks of protests in New York City and some other states, with officers getting cursed at and jostled, in confrontations that took place in places like Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brinsley ran to a local subway station, after executing the two cops, and fatally shot himself in the head.
“You almost saw that something like that was coming,” Maritza Ramos observed to PIX 11 about the assassinations, “Something tragic was going to happen.”
Maritza Ramos told PIX 11 she had spoken to her spouse about thirty minutes before the shooting, and they had a normal husband/wife conversation about Christmas shopping for their sons.
Ralph Ramos told Maritza to be ready when he got home.
“Sometimes, I think back and say, ‘I wish I knew that was going to be our last conversation, because I would have told him how much I loved him.”
The couple was together for 22 years. Their oldest son, Justin, was away at college and their youngest, Jaden, was going to be starting high school the next fall.
Maritza Ramos told PIX 11 the couple grew closer, when they joined the Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, Queens.
“We were both ushers,” Mrs. Ramos told PIX. “He was studying to be a chaplain.”
Mrs. Ramos told PIX her husband had worked for DHL as a postal carrier for 17 years, before company downsizing led him to change careers. She said it was his dream to be a New York City police officer.
He knew that his goal might happen faster if he became a school safety officer. So, Ramos did that job for two years, before getting into the NYPD Academy and later graduating with the top of his class.
“99.99 percent on his tests,” Mrs. Ramos noted.
Officer Ramos was initially assigned to the 79th Precinct in Bed-Stuy but later received a transfer to the 84th Precinct, which the couple felt was safer.
Still, Officer Ramos offered to take the Critical Response Team slot in the 79th Precinct on December 20, 2014.
Maritza Ramos was taking a short nap, when five police officials showed up at her door in Cypress Hills and asked her to sit down.
She insisted on getting their news, while standing up.
“They said a deranged lunatic came from Baltimore on a bus—and shot and killed your husband and his partner,” Mrs. Ramos recalled them saying.
Her younger son was standing at the top of the stairs and started screaming, when he heard the terrible news.
Mrs. Ramos went to Woodhull Hospital and was finally ushered into a room, where she said her goodbyes to her husband, who had lost his own father at the age of six months, “and always strived to be the best dad.” She recalled how her husband loved the New York Mets and passed that on to his sons. “They watched the games together, they went to the games together,” she remembered.
“I didn’t see his police uniform,” Maritza Ramos said of her last moments with her deceased spouse. “They had him pretty wrapped up everywhere. All I could see was his face.”
Mrs. Ramos cried as she remembered these minutes, adding, “This is the first time I’m talking about it. It’s a little hard.”
“I just told him that I really loved him, and I gave him a kiss.”
Three days after Rafael Ramos was killed, his oldest son, Justin, turned 19 on December 23rd.
The day after Christmas, December 26th, Justin Ramos bravely spoke at the first memorial service for his father.
“I was proud of him,” Maritza Ramos said, “because I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t speak three words without crying.”
In the last year, Mrs. Ramos has stayed close to Wenjian Liu’s young widow, who was only married three months when she lost her husband. Both Liu and his wife were Chinese immigrants.
“We’re hurting in the same way,” Maritza Ramos said.
Mrs. Ramos took special comfort in words from Vice President Joseph Biden, who gave the first eulogy at her husband’s funeral.
Biden had lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car crash decades ago.
“He said, ‘One day, you know, you will be able to smile again, and your boys will always have your back.’”
Mrs. Ramos and her sons felt honored to meet President Obama in the Oval Office this year, when he signed a law calling for a “Blue Alert” system that would alert police officers when dangerous criminals are on the move. And her boys took real delight in being guests of the New York Mets at spring training.
“They loved the experience,” Maritza Ramos remembered. “Being Mets fans, you know, all their lives growing up with their dad being a Mets fan. That was an amazing experience for them and me. Just to see them smiling.”
Mrs. Ramos has received hundreds of cards and notes in the last year from police widows around the world, and the family home in Cypress Hills is now undergoing renovations.
So, since April, she’s been living with Jaden in the rental apartment in Brooklyn, while Justin is away at college in Maine. Ramos told PIX 11 Justin is very serious about his studies.
This weekend, the two police families will attend a memorial ceremony at Christ Tabernacle Church on Saturday.
On Sunday, the exact anniversary date, the NYPD will follow tradition—and dedicate two plaques to the slain detectives at the 84th Precinct.
Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were both promoted, posthumously, to the rank of Detective First Grade.
Maritza Ramos has now launched a foundation in her late husband’s name, planning a fundraiser for January 28th, 2016, at Irving Plaza in Manhattan.
Anyone interested in buying tickets can go to Detectiverafaelramos.org.
As she gets ready for her second Christmas without Ralph, Ramos was asked if she had anything she would like to say.
“I think my message to New Yorkers would be to show everyone love and compassion,” she said. “Even to a stranger.”