Marc Anthony DiNardo, the 37-year-old Jersey City police detective who died in a violent shootout with two armed robber suspects in July 2009, was honored Wednesday in a ceremony to rename the elementary school he attended.
The building will now be known as the Marc Anthony DiNardo School.
DiNardo's aunt, Nancy Imperatore, said at the ceremony, "When someone reading his name on this building asks, 'Who is Marc DiNardo?,' you need to tell them, 'A little boy with a big heart who went to this very school, a kid at heart always, and a man loved by his family and friends, and whose large size betrayed his gentle person."
Imperatore continued, tearing up: "a police officer who gave his community the greatest gift a man could give -- his own life."
DiNardo was one of five police officers shot while on a stakeout of two armed robbery suspects in July 2009. DiNardo was shot in the face, and had to be revived "five or six times" before doctors could stabilize him at Jersey City Medical Center.
He was taken off life support five days later.
DiNardo's wife, Mary DiNardo, asked the school district to rename the building in January 2010 because, she said, his Jersey City childhood and education was so important to him.
In less than a month, with the support of the Jersey City Police Benevolent Association, DiNardo collected much more than the required 1,000 petition signatures. The board voted for the measure in a subsequent hearing.
District officials, police officials, City Council members and Mayor Jerremiah Healy were on hand at the ceremony.
Superintendent Charles Epps, Jr. said the building "could never take the place of Marc Anthony, but I can only hope it can serve to keep his memory alive forever, forever, forever."
DiNardo attended the school when it was known as P.S. 17, according to his aunt.
"He was curious and he was fun, and he always had many comrades in his adventures and escapades," said Imperatore. "This school is where his educational foundation was set."
DiNardo went on to graduate from Hudson Catholic High School, receive a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from St. Peter's, and graduate from the state police academy as president of his class.
The vice president for administration and public policy at the New Jersey Sharing Network was also at the ceremony. DiNardo's organ and tissues were donated after he died, and it has become another focal point of his legacy.
"It's impossible to explain the senseless tragedy that took Marc DiNardo from his community and his family, but the beauty of what he and Mary gave to the community and to other families will live on in so many ways," said Melissa Hanahan of the Sharing Network. "Mark's gift of organ and tissue are helping extend lives, and enjoying those lives are their families, their friends and their great communities."
The ceremony was an emotional one for DiNardo's family. His mother, overwhelmed, had to leave the room at one point. Nancy Imperatore, DiNardo's aunt, approached the podium in tears and explained that memorial events were still difficult for the grieving family.
Mary DiNardo, his widow, wiped away tears as the school's second-graders sang John Lennon's "Imagine" to a slideshow of DiNardo -- the boy, the teenager, the adult police officer, the husband and the father -- playing on a projector behind them.
After the ceremony, she said, her voice breaking, "I really have no words. I have no words, but it's great."
"The tribute was beautiful, and the children -- that's what it's all about," she said.