It was a heated Monday night New York Rangers game on Nov. 28. The kind that Brianna Fernandez, an avid Rangers fan, would tune in to watch with her late father in front of the television.
This match, however, was different. Fernandez, 24, wasn’t at home watching the game or sitting in the stands with thousands of other fans. She was standing at center ice during the pregame ceremony, her voice soaring through the arena as she poured out a dazzling rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Madison Square Garden.
She was donning not a jersey, but her New York Police Department uniform. As her voice rose, finishing “home of the brave” with a grand crescendo, she heard the swell of the crowd’s applause. All she could do was take it in. Amid the electrifying jolt of the fans, along with the noise and excitement and the adrenaline of the moment, she stood poised beaming with a smile. Her mind anchored on the memory of one man: her father, NYPD detective Luis Fernandez.
“I really, truly felt like he was there with me on that ice when I was singing,” she said. “It was just such an incredible moment, feeling the energy of the crowd, you know, and just feeling like my dad was there.”
Detective Fernandez served in the relief efforts during the chaos and dread of the September 11 terrorist attacks in Lower Manhattan. After more than two decades of service, he died in October 2014 from esophageal cancer. Like hundreds of other officers, Luis eventually succumbed to health-related complications stemming from his work in the contaminated ground zero recovery efforts in the days following the attacks, leaving behind his two young daughters and wife.
As part of the stadium’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night event, her performance was a proud, unmistakable daughterly tribute to him, and his legacy from one fellow NYPD officer to another.
“My dad was and is my biggest inspiration,” said Brianna. She was not alone to celebrate his memory. Her 20-year-old sister Bailley Fernandez was on the ice with her. The two hugged after her performance.
“Standing alongside my sister was incredibly emotional,” said Bailley Fernandez. “Once we walked onto the ice and they played her introduction, I could immediately feel the tears.
“It truly meant the world to her. Our dad was and continues to be everything to us,” she said. “He was the most selfless, kind, and lovable man and was a hero in more ways than one. We both strive every day to make him proud in all that we do and honoring him in uniform was so meaningful to my sister.”
Brianna was able to perform due to her connection with the Garden of Dreams Foundation and their partner organization, the NYPD Detectives Endowment Association’s Widows’ and Children’s Fund. The organization provides benefits such as covering certain health insurance costs, funeral expenses, and medical and educational assistance to the spouses and children of deceased New York City Police Department Detectives.
Within a year of her father’s passing, Brianna was contacted by the Garden of Dreams Foundation where she was enlisted to perform at the Annual Talent Show at Radio City. She also received a Garden of Dreams Foundation Inspire Scholarship to help pay for her college tuition while studying criminology at Hofstra University, whereupon her graduation, she would later follow in her father’s footsteps as a police officer.
She is also no stranger to performing before a national audience, having sung her heart out with her rendition of the National Anthem at the Jet’s opening game against the Ravens in MetLife Stadium this September on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“I understand the privilege of standing on Garden Ice and listening to the National Anthem,” said Adam Graves, former Rangers hockey player and board of director member for the Garden of Dreams Foundation. “There is not a greater tribute that you could make and a greater sign of respect and admiration for her father. It’s a privilege to have her as part of our bigger Garden family and personally, just to see her and get to know her over the last seven years.”
“It’s always important to hold your loved ones dear,” said Brianna. “I know he’s beaming with pride, and I take him with me wherever I go.”
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