The heartbreaking memories all came flooding back last week for Lisa Tuozzolo of Huntington, the widow of former NYPD Paul Tuozzolo, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in the Bronx in 2016.
When Tuozzolo learned that FDNY paramedic Alison Russo had been stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in Astoria, Queens, she thought of the first responder's family and how the pain they must be experiencing was all too familiar.
"Your heart breaks again," Tuozzolo, a former West Islip High School assistant principal, said Tuesday during Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s second annual Executive Leadership Conference at Hofstra University. "And for me it breaks every single time because you can't help but think where that family is in the process of what they're going through. … It's really just one of those triggering experiences that brings you right back to the moment where you were."
The two-day conference, which was attended by roughly 200 law enforcement and business leaders, featured a variety of speakers who have overcome incredible personal and professional challenges, including Tuozzolo, Paralympian Rohan Murphy and former Phoenix police Officer Jason Schechterle, who endured a horrific 2001 car crash that left him with severe burns across 40% of his body.
Schechterle, who works as a motivational speaker, said what he has undergone taught him to appreciate the little things in life.
"As I stand here I would not trade places with anybody in this world," said Schechterle, who has had more than 50 surgeries as part of his recovery. "I would not change a single day of my life. I am the most blessed, lucky person in the world and I live my life full of gratitude every single day."
Toulon said he created the conference to bring together leaders in law enforcement so they could share ideas and experiences, but also hear those with personal stories to tell.
"We're trying to really bring different types of diverse individuals who are leaders in their own aspect," Toulon said.
"The pandemic has been a real challenge for the law enforcement community in hiring and retention, how we deal with our community, what messages we're delivering and how we work with our communities."
Former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who lost her reelection campaign last year to Republican Bruce Blakeman, spoke about her own decision to break with the administration of then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during the COVID-19 crisis regarding how quickly local businesses and other facilities would reopen following the lockdown.
"I was not 100% in sync with the state," said Curran, who serves on the board of directors at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital and recently started a podcast. "My position is that people should be able to make decisions for themselves."
Tuozzolo, who described in vivid detail the moments after learning of her husband's murder, encouraged law enforcement officials in attendance to always remember those who gave their lives for the community.
"Let them know they're not forgotten," she said. "Why? Because tomorrow is never promised. And there is no excuse for not being the exemplary leader that you are."