Brian Simonsen, the New York Police Department detective who was shot and killed in a tragic friendly fire incident on duty in Queens, was a married father and 19-year NYPD veteran who was close to retirement.
The tragedy unfolded on February 12, 2019, when Simonsen and a sergeant, Matthew Gorman, were shot while responding to an armed robbery call at a cell phone store. The sergeant was also wounded in the same incident but is expected to survive. The suspect has been named as Christopher Ransom.
“This appears to be an absolute tragic case of friendly fire,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a news conference. “…Make no mistake about it, friendly fire aside, it is because of the action of the suspect that Det. Simonsen is dead. The suspect, a 27-year-old resident and career criminal, was shot multiple times…he is listed in stable condition. This is an absolute tragedy.” He described a chaotic scene as patrol officers arrived while Simonsen and Gorman were leaving the store after a confrontation with the suspect.
“We lost a very good man,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, adding that Simonsen spent his career “protecting this city.” He said he spent time with Simonsen’s mother and wife, describing that moment as an extremely painful one. “We told them…the people of New York City would be there for them as long as they lived.”
The shooting death was the first NYPD on-duty death by gunfire since 2017, with the last being Miosotis Familia. However, according to Pix 11, it was the second time a New York police officer was shot in three months; in December, another office was shot in a friendly fire incident.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Detective Responded to an Armed Robbery Report But the Suspect Had a Fake Weapon
The detective was shot while heroically serving the public on duty; he responded with the sergeant to a T-Mobile store, according to News 1. An armed robbery report had come in via 911, and when the officers arrived, a suspect was “holed up” inside, Daily News reports.
O’Neill said in the press conference that two 911 callers had reported a robbery in progress at the T-Mobile cell phone store on 120th Street in Queens. The suspect was described as a “male armed with a firearm” and two employees were forced at gunpoint to the back of the store, according to a caller. The suspect’s name was not immediately released.
The sergeant and Simonsen pulled up just as patrol units were arriving. They were in the area working on an unrelated case and “didn’t hesitate,” the commissioner said. The officers didn’t see anyone inside, so they entered the store, and saw a man fitting the suspect description allegedly advance toward them with a gun. The officers discharged their weapons as the suspect advanced toward them, the commissioner said, and started to leave the store. At that time, Simonsen was shot, according to O’Neill. He was transported in a police squad car to the hospital.
Multiple officers fired multiple rounds, O’Neill said, pledging that there would be an investigation. However, as for the suspect, “recovered by police at the scene was an imitation firearm,” the commissioner said.
The sergeant was shot in the leg and a passerby transported him to the hospital, where he is in stable condition.
It was a dangerous and chaotic scene. Mayor de Blasio said Simonsen and the sergeant went into the situation selflessly “to protect others….that’s bravery. That resolve is something we all need to understand.”
Commissioner O’Neill confirmed early on that “an on-duty #NYPD officer has been shot in Queens during what appears to be an armed robbery. More details, as they become available, via @NYPDnews.”
According to PIX 11, the store’s doors were “blown out by the gunfire and glass fragments littered the sidewalk” after the shooting.
2. Detective Simonsen Was a Year Away From Retirement, Reports Say
Tragically, according to News 1, the detective could have retired in a year.
He was taken to the hospital, where he died. He was promoted to detective in 2008.
The mayor rushed to the hospital. Radio transmissions gave a glimpse into what happened at the scene. “Our hearts are broken again, because a career criminal put lives in jeopardy. Det. Brian Simonsen, 42, was a 19-year-veteran of the #NYPD. He lost his life fighting crime & keeping safe all the people we serve. The sympathies of all New Yorkers are with his family & colleagues,” New York Police Commissioner O’Neill wrote.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” an officer said on radio transmissions, according to Daily News. “Central, he’s in the store. He’s going to the back… He’s still in the store, central. He’s still in the store.”
Tributes to Brian Simonsen began to spread on social media.
“Our thoughts & prayers are with the members of the @nypd, family, & friends of Det. Brian Simonsen who was shot & killed this evening, in Queens, while responding to an armed robbery call. We also wish a speedy recovery to Sgt. Matthew Gorman who was also shot. Fidelis Ad Mortem,” wrote the Metropolitan Fire Association on Twitter.
“#NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen, 102 Pct Detective Squad, was murdered tonight during a shootout in Queens. We pray for the families and everyone touched by this tragic event. Sergeant Matthew Gorman was also shot and is in stable condition. God bless and watch over our heroes,” wrote Brotherhood NYC.
3. Brian Simonsen Didn’t Have to Report to Work the Day He Died
Brian Simonsen was the elected delegate of his precinct’s detective squad. He was described as a person who led by example and by his actions. In fact, authorities said, the detective didn’t have to be at work that day because there was a delegate’s meeting, and, thus, he was excused from duty. But he showed up anyway.
Authorities said the suspect had an extensive arrest record.
The Times reported that the two officers who were shot were “plainclothes members of an anti-crime squad.”
A worker who was in the area of the shooting described the massive law enforcement response.
“I heard 10 to 15 shots and then, one minute, police all come,” a nearby worker told The New York Post. “It was loud, too much — like boom.”
The person who fired the shot that struck Simonsen was not named. Initial reports that there were two suspects appear to be incorrect as the commissioner described only one suspect.
Witnesses were confused by the fast-moving sequence of events. “I think the suspect shot first. Then the police started opening fire,” said Jason Parodi, who was walking nearby, to The New York Post. “At least 11 – 12 shots that I heard.” However, as noted, the commissioner now says the shooting was a case of friendly fire.
Parodi added to the Post: “Actually I think I see one officer, he was shot. He was limping to his car. I was scared, I didn’t know what direction the bullets were coming in so I hid behind that tree by the park.”
4. Simonsen Was a Married Father
The police commissioner confirmed that Simonsen was married. The Daily News reports he also left behind two children.
Spectrum News reports the detective and sergeant were “following up on a series of armed robberies in the area.”
The detective was shot in the chest, according to multiple news reports.
“We are forever indebted to the brave NYPD detective who was killed in Queens tonight and the sergeant who was wounded. May God bless them and their families,” Sen. Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter.
5. Brian Simonsen Once Testified in a High Profile Case
As a detective, Brian Simonsen drew some high-profile cases during his service on the NYPD.
Simonsen was mentioned in a 2011 blog post by the Child Injury Lawyer Network about a Queens babysitter who was accused of falling asleep while drinking Nyquil, at which point a child fell in a mop bucket and drowned.
“NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen testified that (Kristal) Kahn showed no emotion was neither sad nor frantic when she gave her written statement a mere 2 hours after the death,” the post reads.