REGO PARK — Dozens of grieving friends and family members gathered in Rego Park on Wednesday evening to mourn the death of Noel Polanco, the National Guardsman and aspiring cop who was shot dead by police during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway last week.
Tearful mourners streamed into a room filled with flowers inside the Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home in Rego Park. Two decorated soldiers stood on either side of Polanco's open casket. Polanco, who was just 22 years old when he was shot dead on Oct. 4, was dressed in uniform inside.
As friends and relatives filtered in and out, Polanco's mother touched her son's head and screamed, "My baby! My baby! You cannot leave me."
Polanco was pulled over near LaGuardia Airport around 5:15 a.m. on Oct. 4. Police say he was driving erratically and cutting between cars.
During the course of the traffic stop, Det. Hassan Hamdy, a member of the NYPD’s elite Emergency Services Unit, fired a shot through the passenger side of Polanco’s vehicle.
Polanco, who was unarmed at the time of the shooting, was sent to New York Hospital Queens, where he died.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has called for a grand jury to investigate the shooting, and Polanco's family is scheduled to meet with the Queens district attorney's office, which is conducting its own investigation into the incident, on Thursday.
"What this family wants is justice," said Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney representing the family, at the wake. "That means if a criminal act was committed by this detective, he'd be prosecuted just like anyone else."
Polanco's sister, 15-year-old Amanda Reyes, defended her brother outside the wake on Wednesday night.
"He was not a bad person. There is nothing negative to say at all. He never got into any trouble," Reyes said. "To see them putting a bad image to my brother is hurtful because they don't know who he really was."
"I can't explain the pain I'm going through," Reyes added. "I lived with him all my life, and it's empty now. He was my biggest role model. He was always the one that put a smile on my face."
Jovani Padin, 19, of East New York, said Polanco was his best friend, even though they only knew each other for a year.
Padin said he made a promise to himself that he will protect Polanco's family:
"This kid was the funniest kid you will ever know," Padin said. "He was down to earth. He was a smart person. He was a lovable kid. There should be no reason why he's laid up right now."
Staff Sgt. Terence Tyson, 34, said he trained Polanco in the Army National Guard.
"He was a very good soldier, a humble human being," Tyson said. "He will be missed. It's sad to see him go. I pray for his family."
Several hours into the wake on Wednesday evening, more than a dozen members of the auto club Center of Attention, where Polanco was a member for the past two years, pulled in front of the funeral home on motorcycles and revved their engines for five minutes — a sign of respect for Polanco.
"Noel was a great person. He had a beautiful heart," said Alex Cordero, 27, vice president of Center of Attention. "It's a messed up situation. I'm still shocked. Right now I'm very hurt. Every year we're going to do a celebration for him."
Wednesday’s service was the first day of a wake that is expected to continue on Thursday evening at the Leo Kearns Funeral Home at 61-40 Woodhaven Boulevard.
Funeral services for Polanco, 22, will be held Friday at at Eternal Love Baptist church at 54-07 99th St.