Those closest to the police officers fatally shot Saturday in what authorities are calling a revenge killing are expressing their sorrow and loss.
Officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were killed Saturday afternoon by gunman Ismaiiyl Brinsley, 28, who committed suicide in a subway station soon after the attack, according to authorities. He had stated online that he planned to kill officers because of the recent deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Both died in police custody.
Ralph Castillo, a teaching pastor with the Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens, where Ramos attended for 14 years and served as usher, says the congregation was in mourning.
“His smile was completely infectious and disarming,” Castillo tells PEOPLE. “Our motto is ‘no place like home,’ and Ralph was one of the faithful ushers who made sure people felt at home when they walked into the building.”
He and Ramos often bonded over family, he says.
“Our boys played baseball together for one year,” Castillo says. “He was highly relational. He would talk to the boys and ask them questions about their favorite teams. He was a family man. A really nice man. He loved his wife and boys tremendously.”
Ramos had two sons, Jaden, 13, and an 18-year-old.
“Today I had to say bye to my father,” Jaden posted on his Facebook page hours after his father’s death. “He was [there] for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. I will always love you and I will never forget you. RIP Dad.”
Ramos’s brother Peter also posted on his Facebook page thanking the public for their support.
“I want to take the time out to thank everybody for the prayers and the support for our family in this time of need,” he wrote. “My brother was a great man, he was taken from us too early wonderful husband and great father. I love you so much bro my you RIP i will never let you go you will be in my heart forever love your lil brother Peter Ramos.”
Ramos, a Brooklyn resident who joined NYPD in January 2012, previously worked as a school safety officer in Staten Island, according to official NYPD records. Lui, also from Brooklyn, joined NYPD in July 2008 and had recently married.
On Sunday morning, Rev. Al Sharpton held a press conference in Harlem at the National Action Network headquarters along with Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and widow, Esaw, to denounce the killings, silive.com reports.
“I know what they’re going through to lose a loved one right before the holidays and everything. It’s so sad,” Garner’s widow said. “I would ask that everyone that is protesting with us to please protest in a non-violent way. My husband was not a violent man, so we don’t want any violence connected to his name.”
Carr told the gathered crowd she stood “in sorrow,” according to silive.com.
“These two police officers lost their lives senselessly,” she said. “Our condolence to the families, and we stand with the families.”
Sharpton, who said he has received multiple threatening calls since the shootings and turned them over to the FBI, led a prayer service for Liu and Ramos at St. Luke Baptist Church in Harlem.
Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement Saturday following the attack condemning what he called a “senseless shooting.”
“This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty,” the statement reads. “Our nation must always honor the valor – and the sacrifices – of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe. This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that’s fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.”
• With reporting by ANA CALDERONE, CHRISTINE PELISEK and NICOLE SANDS