By Allyson Escobar and Emily Drooby
A Queens hometown hero is remembered for his courage, selflessness and sacrifice.
Luis Alvarez was laid to rest on Wednesday, July 3 at Immaculate Conception parish in Astoria, Queens. Alvarez was one of many New York police detectives and first responders to the terror attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 53-year-old Alvarez died on Saturday, June 29, after a three-year battle with colon cancer, reportedly linked to the three months he spent working at Ground Zero.
Alvarez is the 222nd NYPD member killed after working in the lethal wreckage, known as “the Pile.”
Family, friends, and hundreds of service members in uniform came to the somber procession outside of Immaculate Conception church, followed by an emotional funeral Mass of the Resurrection.
Alvarez’s father served as a deacon of the Brooklyn Diocese, working at the parish for many years.
At the funeral Mass, the Gospel reading came from the Book of Matthew, echoing the heart of service Luis had: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“We are asked in faith, dear brothers and sisters, to do something very simple… you may have captured a sense of his dedication to the call, the body of the Marines and the police department, sustained by his loving family all through the years,” said principal celebrant, Father John P. Harrington, in his homily.
“It’s the word of thanks for all the good that has been received through our brother, Luis. As we come to that respect, to the dignity of each person. This faith is the way we join ourselves to Christ.”
Brooklyn Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez, who attended the funeral Mass, also honored the man whom he says “showed a profession that required courage and fortitude.”
“[Luis Alvarez] served in a distinguished manner, and continued a battle fighting cancer until the end,” Bishop Sanchez said. “It was a beautiful event that brought us together and affirmed values that we all embrace — fortitude, selflessness, self-sacrifice.”
An Emotional Plea
Alvarez appeared before Congress in June, alongside other first responders and servicemen pushing for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, a federally funded program that compensates victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Congress last authorized funding for the program in 2015 for use until 2020, but that money is running out.
In his testimony, Alvarez said, “I should not be here today but you made me come. You made me come, because I will not stand by and watch my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else is because of when they get sick or die.”
Under the current bill, which cleared before the House Judiciary on June 12, Congress would approve an unspecified amount of funding for the program until 2090. The bill now awaits a vote before the full House of Representatives. If passed by the House, the bill would then go to the U.S. Senate and eventually to President Trump.
According to Dr. Michael Crane at Mount Sinai Hospital, 10,000 first responders and victims have been diagnosed with Sept. 11-related cancer. At least 2,000 deaths are also attributed with Sept. 11 illnesses and disease.
“We pray that Congress and Senate heard his message and that he will have died a happy man for his efforts for the World Trade Center Fund, for the Victim Compensation Fund,” Luis’s brother, Phillip Alvarez, said at a July 2 news conference after the wake. “I will guarantee that if we need to go down there again, I will go down there again.”
“Despite 69 rounds of chemo, he continued to fight and continued to use what voice he could to get his message across,” said David Alvarez, Luis’s oldest son.
In an emotional eulogy, David recalled fond memories of his father, at the memorial Mass.
“I learned so much from my father — that being a man can mean many things, but above all, it means taking responsibility for your words and actions. Your word is your bond. I love you, Dad. I promise to keep walking on the brave side of the line.”
Remembering NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez
Alvarez was born in 1965 in Cuba. Fleeing communism, his family immigrated to New York, where young Luis grew up and attended school in the Immaculate Conception parish community.
Alvarez graduated from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst, and later studied at the City University of New York. Soon after graduating, he enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps and later joined the NYPD in 1990, serving the 108th Precinct in Long Island City.
His service included volunteering in the bomb squad and working as an undercover detective for both the NYPD and the Department of Homeland Security. After 21 years, he later retired in 2010 due to illnesses.
“He really was the perfect depiction of the American dream, said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill in his eulogy. “A shining example of our city’s great diversity, as well as the extraordinary call to service.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “The city can never repay its debt to Detective Lou Alvarez. It will be my honor to award him with a posthumous Key to the City as a symbol of our profound respect and gratitude for his service and sacrifice.”
Alvarez had asked the Immaculate Conception community that, at his funeral, the public remember the victims of 9/11, as well as all fallen police officers and service members.
Alvarez is survived by his parents and siblings; his wife, Lainie; and 3 sons; David, Tyler and Benjamin.
“We faced each day with the faith that God never sends a cross too heavy to bear,” said his sister, Aida Lugo, during her eulogy. “Luis took on that cross in a way that so few do — with tenacity and resilience.”