Jonathan Diller’s memory lives on in community garden

Ryan Diller will ‘always know the legacy of his dad’


It all began with a T-shirt. Twelve-year-old Alana Torregrossa’s idea to honor fallen Officer Jonathan Diller, of the New York City Police Department, has since bloomed into a community garden that will forever commemorate Diller’s sacrifice.

Diller, 31, a Franklin Square native, was shot and killed while on duty in March, leaving behind his wife, Stephanie, who is originally from Malverne, and their 1-year-old son, Ryan.

Though her husband died, Stephanie has said she still feels his love everywhere she goes. The garden in his honor, in Garden City South Park in West Hempstead, is another example of his love living on. The corner of blue hydrangeas, commemorated with a white wreath with her husband’s name on it, was officially opened in a ceremony last Friday.

“Jonathan was our biggest cheerleader, me and Ryan,” Stephanie said, with Ryan in her arms. “Our biggest supporter. Even after he’s passed, he continues to support us, because he’s sent so many wonderful people. His spirit is in your hearts in order for you guys to do something, to think of us,” she added, referring to the neighbors who came together to create the garden. “He comes to you guys and you guys reach out to me. I continue to feel his love even after all this.”

In addition to rows of NYPD officers who stood at attention, dozens of neighbors and elected officials attended to honor Diller’s sacrifice.

“This was put together by the hearts of this community,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin told Stephanie and Diller’s mother, Fran. “By the people who do love you, by the people that are never going to forget what was stolen from you. And we’ll honor him, and we will treasure this garden right here.”

But it was Alana Torregrossa, a sixth-grader at John Street Elementary School, in Franklin Square, who made the ceremony possible. The day after Diller — who attended John Street as a child — was killed, Alana asked the school if there was a way they could collectively honor his memory. She was initially turned down, but she didn’t let that stop her. She began wearing an NYPD T-shirt to school.

Then Alana and her mother, Krystina Torregrossa began working with Marge Kelly, president of the Garden City South Community League, and Joseph Romeo and Domenico Ciaccio, co-presidents of the Morton Civic Association. The idea of creating a memorial garden took root, grew as more people got involved and eventually blossomed into the burst of color that now fills a corner of Garden City South Park.

“Unfortunately, it won’t bring Officer Diller back,” Romeo said. “But it will keep his memory that much more alive.”

“I feel immensely grateful that I’ll have places and people for Ryan and me,” Stephanie said, “and that he’s always going to know the legacy of his dad.”

There was an outpouring of national support for Diller and his family after his death, but this memorial is unique, neighbors and officials noted, a true grass-roots effort from those in his hometown who knew and loved him.

“It’s a shining example of a community coming together to say that they will never forget,” U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito said. “We will make sure that Jonathan is never, ever forgotten. And it’s not just going to be on anniversaries. It’s not just going to be when it’s convenient. We will make sure, not just here, in places like the Town of Hempstead, but every corner of this great nation will know that Jonathan Diller is a hero.”

Among those who came out to honor him and support his widow and son was the Rev. Douglas Arcoleo, of St. Catherine of Siena Church, the congregation Diller grew up in. In the Catholic faith, Arcoleo explained, death is not the end of life — rather, it is a change from one state to another.

“Just as these flowers are planted in this garden and year after year they will resurface,” he said, “they will be a reminder to all who pass by that life, yes, for the plant, is only changed as it ended, but more importantly, life for Jonathan has changed.”

Diller’s name will be added to a commemorative wall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. An inscription on the wall reads, “It’s not how they died that made them heroes — it’s how they lived.”

Arcoleo gave Ryan a vial of holy water, and then, guided by his mother, he intently watered the blue hydrangeas that had been planted in memory of his father.

“Look at Jonathan’s family,” D’Esposito said. “It’s how he lived that made him a hero.”