Advertisement

Slain NYPD Officer Jonathan Diller’s wife joins tragic sisterhood of widows whose husbands were killed in the line of duty: ‘It never goes away’

widows of nypd comp
Diller's widow is now part of a tragic sisterhood.

It’s a tragic sisterhood.

When a New York City police officer is killed, every NYPD widow feels like they’ve been punched in the gut, five survivors of the shield told The Post in the wake of Monday’s murder of Police Officer Jonathan Diller, 31, shot in Far Rockaway after he and other cops approached a parked car.

“When I heard, the wind was just knocked out of me,” Leanne Simonsen said.

Jonathan Diller and his wife poses with their one-year-old son. facebook/jonnymac
Jonathan Diller and his wife poses with their one-year-old son. facebook/jonnymac

“I was ready to burst into tears without even knowing what happened,” Simonsen, whose husband, Detective Brian Simonsen, 42, was killed five years ago while responding to a robbery at a cell phone store in Richmond Hill, Queens.

“My heart just broke.”

She and 108 other widows of cops killed in the line of duty — a group that now includes Stephanie Diller — form a strong collective that helps new members cope with grief and know there’s an army of blue that has their backs.

The bullet that killed Diller went under his vest, striking him in the stomach — a devastating detail for Leslyn Stewart.

She and her husband, NYPD Detective Dillon Stewart, had 6-year-old and 4-month-old daughters when he was shot and killed while trying to pull over a driver who ran a red light in East Flatbush on Nov. 28, 2005.

Leanne Simonsen, the widow of Det. Brian Simonsen, holds the flag that draped his casket following his funeral at the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, N.Y., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. AP
Leanne Simonsen, the widow of Det. Brian Simonsen, holds the flag that draped his casket following his funeral at the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, N.Y., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. AP

The driver, Allan Cameron, opened fire and a bullet made its way through the armhole gap in Stewart’s protective vest, piercing his heart.

“When I first learned about [Diller’s death], there were so many similarities for me,” Stewart said.

“The fact that it went under his vest as well as the fact that he was so young, has a family, and understanding what that devastation is like and just all the connections. It was just really, really devastating.”

Detective Brian Simonsen, 42, was killed five years ago while responding to a robbery at a cell phone store in Richmond Hill, Queens. Courtesy of Leanne Simonsen
Detective Brian Simonsen, 42, was killed five years ago while responding to a robbery at a cell phone store in Richmond Hill, Queens. Courtesy of Leanne Simonsen
“I was ready to burst into tears without even knowing what happened,” Leanne Simonsen said. J.C. Rice
“I was ready to burst into tears without even knowing what happened,” Leanne Simonsen said. J.C. Rice

When her youngest daughter, Samantha, now 18 and a freshman in college, learned of Diller’s fate she called her mom in tears.

“She was hysterically crying, knowing that it was a bullet that went under the vest,” the mom said.

Stewart and her daughter feel a kinship with Diller’s family because he leaves behind an infant son, named Ryan.

Officer Dillon Stewart, 35, was fatally shot Nov. 28, 2005, in Brooklyn, N.Y., while attempting to pull over a car with stolen license plates that had sped through a red light. AP
Officer Dillon Stewart, 35, was fatally shot Nov. 28, 2005, in Brooklyn, N.Y., while attempting to pull over a car with stolen license plates that had sped through a red light. AP
The driver opened fire and a bullet made its way through the armhole gap in Stewart’s protective vest, piercing his heart. Paul Martinka
The driver opened fire and a bullet made its way through the armhole gap in Stewart’s protective vest, piercing his heart. Paul Martinka
Leslyn Stewart, the wife of the fallen P.O. Dillon Stewart pictured with their daughter Samantha at her husband’s wake at the New Life Tabernacle in East Flatbush on East 49th Street in Brooklyn. Paul Martinka
Leslyn Stewart, the wife of the fallen P.O. Dillon Stewart pictured with their daughter Samantha at her husband’s wake at the New Life Tabernacle in East Flatbush on East 49th Street in Brooklyn. Paul Martinka

“She grieves for the dad that she never got to know,” Stewart said.

“And so I think it would be the same with this 1-year-old.”

The widows meet regularly and help each other navigate their way through the tragedy.

Slain NYPD officer Dillon Stewart pictured smiling with his wife Leslyn Stewart. Courtesy of Leslyn Stewart
Slain NYPD officer Dillon Stewart pictured smiling with his wife Leslyn Stewart. Courtesy of Leslyn Stewart
Stewart and her daughter feel a kinship with Diller’s family because he leaves behind an infant son. Paul Martinka
Stewart and her daughter feel a kinship with Diller’s family because he leaves behind an infant son. Paul Martinka

“It’s not a group that you want to belong to,” Stewart said.

“But we are supportive and will be there for her family.”

The widows also shared their fury over the liberal turn in the justice system that they say puts criminals first, as well as a lack of respect for the city’s Finest thanks to defund-the-police rhetoric.

Detective Patrick Rafferty was killed with his partner Detective Robert Parker in 2004 after approaching a car driven by a known suspect in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Gordon M. Grant
Detective Patrick Rafferty was killed with his partner Detective Robert Parker in 2004 after approaching a car driven by a known suspect in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Gordon M. Grant
Eileen Rafferty said her husband was in an anti-crime unit and “spent hours away from us literally trying to protect the city and do his job and he did a phenomenal job.” Gordon M. Grant
Eileen Rafferty said her husband was in an anti-crime unit and “spent hours away from us literally trying to protect the city and do his job and he did a phenomenal job.” Gordon M. Grant

“The whole idea of repeat offenders is just galling to all of us,” said Eileen Rafferty, whose husband, Detective Patrick Rafferty, was killed with his partner Detective Robert Parker in 2004 after approaching a car driven by a known suspect in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“It’s frustrating. It’s angering. That was some of what we talked about.”

The suspect, Marlon Legere, managed to get Parker’s gun during a struggle and shot both officers repeatedly.

Her kids, Kara and Kevin, were 12 and 9 when they all received the tragic news. Her youngest daughter, Emma, was told in the morning. Gordon M. Grant
Her kids, Kara and Kevin, were 12 and 9 when they all received the tragic news. Her youngest daughter, Emma, was told in the morning. Gordon M. Grant

The widow Rafferty said her husband was in an anti-crime unit and “spent hours away from us literally trying to protect the city and do his job and he did a phenomenal job,” she said.

“It’s gotten to the point where the cops that are working so hard, their work is going unappreciated and the deaths are just like a double blow,” she continued.

Her kids Kara and Kevin were 12 and 9 when they received the tragic news at the same time as their mom in their Bay Shore home.

Eileen Rafferty and her children were pictured together at her Bay Shore home. Gordon M. Grant
Eileen Rafferty and her children were pictured together at her Bay Shore home. Gordon M. Grant

Her youngest, Emma, 4, was asleep and told in the morning.

“I had to tell her that her dad was never coming home,” Rafferty recalled.

“And the other two were sitting with me and they were like ‘Don’t do it, Mommy! Don’t do it! No, don’t tell her!’ That is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Police Officer Robert Machate (right), was killed on March 3, 1989, after a skirmish broke out during a car stop in Flatbush. Obtained by New York Post
Police Officer Robert Machate (right), was killed on March 3, 1989, after a skirmish broke out during a car stop in Flatbush. Obtained by New York Post
“I was pregnant with my daughter when I found out he was killed that night,” Grace Machate said of the Brooklyn anti-crime unit cop, noting she gave birth six months later. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
“I was pregnant with my daughter when I found out he was killed that night,” Grace Machate said of the Brooklyn anti-crime unit cop, noting she gave birth six months later. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Grace Ann Machate, 61, was pregnant with daughter Nicole when her husband, Police Officer Robert Machate, was killed on March 3, 1989, after a skirmish broke out during a car stop in Flatbush.

One of the suspects gained control of Machate’s pistol and fired it, causing the bullet to ricochet off the ground and underneath the 25-year-old officer’s vest.

“I was pregnant with my daughter when I found out he was killed that night,” she said of the Brooklyn anti-crime unit cop, noting she gave birth three months later.

“She never had a moment with her father. It’s just hard.”

In the days leading up to Diller’s funeral, some of the widows were thinking about what they would say to his wife.

“You never end up getting over it. You just learn to live with the pain … that’s 35 years later,” Machate said.

Her daughter almost joined the NYPD, she said, but her plans were stymied by COVID delays in new recruit classes.

Instead, she went to work for a security firm.

Rita Williams, 66, lost her husband, Keith, more than 30 years ago when when he and another officer were shot in the head taking a prisoner to Rikers Island on Nov. 13, 1989. Helayne Seidman
Rita Williams, 66, lost her husband, Keith, more than 30 years ago when when he and another officer were shot in the head taking a prisoner to Rikers Island on Nov. 13, 1989. Helayne Seidman

“In a way I’m glad she’s not in the department because now I’m scared,” she said.

Rita Williams, 66, lost her husband, Keith, more than 30 years ago when her daughter was 12.

She still seethes about the circumstances.

Detective Williams was shot in the head along with his partner Detective Richard Guerzon while they were taking a prisoner from the Queens District Attorney’s Office to Rikers Island on Nov. 13, 1989.

“It was outright murder of two officers with this nut thinking he was getting away.” Helayne Seidman
“It was outright murder of two officers with this nut thinking he was getting away.” Helayne Seidman

The killer, Jay Stoney Harrison, 25, stole a detective’s gun from an unsecured locker while he was left alone.

“My husband’s[murder] was just disgusting,” the widow said.

“It was outright murder of two officers with this nut thinking he was getting away.”

“My husband’s[murder] was just disgusting,” the Williams said. Helayne Seidman
“My husband’s[murder] was just disgusting,” the Williams said. Helayne Seidman

She said Diller’s death was still a ”gut punch” for her all these years later.

“You deal with it but it never goes away,” she said.

“And then when it happens again you go, ‘Oh, my God, another one.’ It’s very, very, very painful.”

She had this simple message for Stephanie Diller: “Just hold on, hold on, hold on.”

“There’s nothing else you can tell her. She doesn’t want to hear ‘It’s going to be all right and tomorrow’s going to be a better day’ because right now she can’t see past this minute.”