WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Family, friends, police, and schoolchildren came together Thursday morning to remember two officers slain in the line duty 24 years ago.
Officer Michael Buczek, 24, was shot dead in Washington Heights during an investigation of a group of suspected drug dealers. Officer Chris Hoban, 26, was gunned down during an undercover drug investigation on 105th Street. Both died within three hours of each other on Oct. 18, 1988.
Their killings, which took place at the height of the crack epidemic, remain a stark reminder that the West Side of Manhattan used to be considered a war zone because of the drug trade.
As in prior years, the annual memorial involved a procession to the Church of St. Elizabeth from P.S. 48, which is now named in Buczek's honor.
A full memorial mass then took place at the church, which was so full that late-comers had to stand. An NYPD pipe and drum band also performed.
For Mary-Joe Buczek, Michael's sister, Oct. 18 will always be bittersweet.
"It's an anticipated day all year. It's a great day and a sad day at the same time," she told DNAinfo.com New York, explaining that her brother's tragic death did prompt positive change in the community.
"We take 500 kids off the streets," Mary-Joe Buczek said of the Michael Buczek Little League, which had been organized by her parents in his honor. "Who knows what they would have been doing if they didn't have the mentoring and the coaches?"
Over the years, she said, 35 participants wound up joining the police force as adults.
"Both my parents promised that he would not be forgotten," Mary Joe Buczek said.
Hoban’s relatives also launched an eponymous scholarship at Brooklyn's Xaverian High School, his alma mater.
Martin Hoban, who also spoke at the memorial, told DNAinfo.com New York that residents still tell him that the incident wound up bringing the community to act against violence.
He recalls one time that a woman approached him, saying, "'I just want to thank you because your brother's sacrifice made this such a better place to live."