GREENPOINT — Joseph Stepinski, the window washer shot and killed in a dispute with his neighbor, a former police officer, will live on through organ donations, the man's family said at his wake on Tuesday.
The 45-year-old life-long neighborhood resident was kept on life support for days after he was shot in the head, allowing doctors to harvest both kidneys, skin, bones, bone marrow, eyes, heart valves, liver and intestines, his brother, John Stepinski, 54, said.
"He's saving lives," his brother said. "Our family right now is looking at not the tragedy, there's nothing we can control about that, but we can change peoples thoughts [on organ donation]."
"If you want to honor my brother and his memory, become an organ donor," John Stepinski said.
Friends at the service remembered Joseph Stepinski as a playful jokester who loved his family. He died March 10, four days after prosecutors say his neighbor Gene Barrett, 51, shot him in the head.
The memorial service was held at Stobierski Lucas Gardenview Funeral Home on Driggs Avenue, where Joseph was lying in the casket dressed in a New York Rangers jersey, a team he'd adored since he was a kid. Joseph played hockey in high school and went on to a minor league run by the Rangers before an injury put him out of the running, friends said.
But beyond his love of hockey, his family and friends remembered Joseph as a simple man with a childlike quality who loved jokes and pranks, Nerf gun wars with his nieces and nephews, snowball fights and meticulously hiding nearly a hundred Easter eggs each April.
"We'd find Easter eggs all year long. He was already planning where he was gonna hide them," said 20-year-old Lauren Stepinksi, Joseph's niece and John's daughter whose family lives in Newburgh.
Lauren recalled her uncle traveling up to her home there for holidays every year. "We would stay up until 5 a.m. talking and talking on New Year's Eve."
When he'd visit Lauren and her family little things like deer sightings would excite him, she said.
"For him he sees a deer, oh my God a deer!"
Family members giggled at the "stupid" texts they got from Joseph, asking them ridiculous questions like, "How do you peel potatoes?"
And while Joseph had no children of his own, he lived with his girlfriend of nearly three years and her two young children, who he cared for as if they were his own, friends and family members said.
It was at their shared apartment building at 185 Greenpoint Ave. where he butted heads with his neighbor Gene Barrett, a retired officer.
Stepinksi's girlfriend and her ex-husband had been quarreling with Barrett for years, according to friends and police.
That tension turned deadly on March 8 when Barrett shot Stepinksi in the head, then held off police for two hours, according to authorities. During the standoff he told a lieutenant at the scene, "It was me," prosecutors said.
Barrett, who retired from the police force in 2002 on a disability pension, is being held at Rikers Island without bail and is due back in court on March 24, court records show.