Mourners tried to console family members at the wake for 22-year-old Noel Polanco Wednesday, but there was little they could say to ease the pain of losing a son and brother so suddenly and violently.
"It hurts. I just wish I had my final goodbye," said Polanco's sister Amanda Reyes.
Reyes said she spoke with her brother the night before he was shot and killed by police while pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport.
"He never disrespected, he never got arrested, he never got in trouble, and it's why it's shocking to me," she said. "Because I know how my brother is as a person."
Polanco was driving a co-worker, Diana Deferrari, and her friend home after his shift at the Ice Lounge in Astoria at about 5 a.m. When he cut off an unmarked police van, officers pulled him over in what Deferrari claims was a case of road rage.
Police said Polanco reached under his seat to grab what they thought was a gun, prompting the detective on the passenger side of the vehicle to fire the fatal single shot into Polanco's stomach.
Deferrari disputes that. She said Polanco's hands were on the steering wheel the entire time. And no gun was recovered from the vehicle, only a power drill under the driver's seat.
The anger was palpable at the wake in Rego Park, Queens. Friends wore shirts honoring Polanco, and others held up signs demanding justice.
"Why is it that if you're a policeman in an unmarked car and out of uniform, and someone cuts in front of you, you kill them?" questioned neighbor Marianela Sarotis.
Friends and family have maintained Polanco was a caring, hard-working man -- a "quiet, good kid," by all accounts. He served four years in the U.S. Army National Guard, and returned with a goal of eventually joining the NYPD.
Polanco's mother, Cecilia Reyes, vowed last week to find justice for her son.
"They're just gonna take my son like that ... like he's some kind of criminal ... 22 years old, never got in trouble. I want justice for my son," Reyes said as she sobbed. "I'm not gonna let his memory stay like this. He was not a bad kid."
Polanco's family is expected to meet with the Queens district attorney Thursday to discuss the case, their first step in the long road to find answers.
"I think she wants assurances from him that there will be a fair and totally independent investigation with regard to this wrongful death," said family attorney Sanford Rubenstein.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday he thought a grand jury investigation may be a good idea to "determine precisely what happened there."
"We're going to fight through this, we're going to get the justice," Amanda Reyes said Wednesday. "We're going to fix this."