We often say, in the face of tragedy, and when a hero is lost, that we must never let such a hero’s memory be forgotten.

Three years ago, our region faced such a senseless tragedy when Joseph Seals, a North Arlington resident and Jersey City police detective, was shot and killed in the line of duty during one of the worst shootings we’ve ever known.

We go back to that say.

The afternoon of Dec. 10, 2019, was as harrowing as any day in memory. At The Observer’s office, a mere 7 miles away from it all, we sat and sometimes stood, in stunned disbelief, listening to the Jersey City Police Department on a police scanner app after an alert came in about a possible shooting in the city’s Greenville section.

For hours, live and in real time, we heard the echoes of gunshots being fired. Some of those sounds came from radios operated by officers who were inside Sacred Heart, a Catholic elementary school that is directly across the street on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from one of the scenes of carnage.

We later learned all of the chaos was the result of Seals being fatally shot in the head as he stood in Bay View Cemetery, on Garfield Avenue, in the second-largest city in New Jersey, as he pursued leads in another case.

Following the shooting of Det. Seals, the two suspects, a woman and a man whose names we will still not mention, calmly got into a stolen U-Haul and drove about a mile from Garfield Avenue over to JC Kosher Deli, on MLK Drive, and took the lives of several others, including Harrison’s Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, a clerk in the store, whose young daughter was, at that time, a student in the Harrison school system.

It was all happening in a neighborhood, Greenville, known affectionately by its residents as “The Hill.” This is a neighborhood that has not seen growth the way other Jersey City locations have — think the Downtown Waterfront.

Instead, much of Greenville had been ignored for decades upon decades. It is the city’s highest-crime area. Poverty is abundant. The average income is about $33,000 a year, well below the city’s overall average.

However, of late, reports estimate about 100 Jewish families now call Greenville home.

When it was over, hours later, following some of the most intense police action imaginable — an incident

that brought to Jersey City several Kearny police officers who are members of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office’s SWAT Team — it left so many wondering how this could happen.

And yet it did happen. And so many people offered words of love and tribute to both Det. Seals and Mr. Rodriguez. It couldn’t be more clear —both were beloved human beings in life, both will be forever missed and we wake up today — almost three years later — to a world that is less because of their loss.

Seals, 40 at the time of his death, joined the Jersey City Police Department in 2006. He was the father of five children. Reports say he was on a mission as a detective in the Cease Fire Unit of the JCPD to get as many illicit guns off the streets as possible.

The unit was instituted to investigate non-fatal, gun-related crimes.

His chief then, Michael Kelly, says Seals was, indeed, able to get dozens of them off the streets.

“He was the leading police officer getting guns off the streets,” Kelly said.

In North Arlington, many mourned his loss, including the borough’s Mayor Daniel H. Pronti, himself a retired police sergeant with the Montclair Police Department.

“As many of you already know, the Borough of North Arlington, the City of Jersey City and the Seals Family suffered a terrible loss,” Pronti, who called Seals his friend, said at the time. “Those who are friends, family, community and acquaintances of police officers, rarely think of the most severe, ultimate sacrifice, which may occur. Today, we are all facing exactly that. The Seals Family is and will always be a part of our community. Joe was a friend to me and to many of you. I want you all to keep the Seals Family in your thoughts and prayers as they try to go on with their lives, mourning the loss of their husband, father and son. Rest Easy, Brother Seals. End Of Watch: 12/10/19.”

Sadly, Seals wasn’t the only local man to die that horrible day.

Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, of Harrison, was a father, husband, hard worker.

Mr. Rodriguez, an immigrant to this country, worked diligently to provide for his family. To accomplish this, he took a job as a clerk at Jersey City Kosher Deli. He was loved by the people for whom he worked. And, there were reports he took a bullet so other lives might be saved.

He and his family lived in an apartment on Harrison’s south side. When it was learned he lived in Harrison, the community, as it always seems to do, instantly came together to help the family. Among other things, the Harrison Education Foundation immediately started a fundraising campaign where all cash raised was given to the family.

One Harrisonian who said he knew Mr. Rodriguez recalled a very positive man who loved his family more than anything else.

Ricardo Rodriguez was a neighbor to the family, but is not related to them. He says Douglas Miguel was always friendly when they would pass each other on the street.

“He always took the time to say ‘hello,’” Ricardo said. “Even if he was in a rush to get to work, he would always stop. It is so tragic that this happened to all of the victims, but especially to him. He loved living here. He always says good things. I feel so bad for his family. I don’t know how they will go on without him.”

And in perhaps the most stunning of all comments made following this awful tragedy, it is the ones made by Mr. Rodriguez’s widow, Martha Freire, that stand out the most.

Ms. Freire showed a compassionate side that is almost impossible to fathom after all she’d been through.

“I forgive the killers — I forgive them both,” she said in Spanish, translated by a family friend. “I want to love the memory of my husband. I do not want to waste my time hating anybody.”

Three years later, perhaps we could all learn a lesson from Freire’s words.

And may we never forget those whose lives were lost that horrible, horrible day.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.