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Two Police officers honored on Portuguese Heritage Night

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Jose Rebelo (right) and Al Costeira (left) wave to the fans as they are honored mid-game as the New Jersey Devils' Heroes of the Game on Portuguese Heritage Night. The two Newark Police Officers together saved a boy's life during a pit bull attack in 2014. Photo by Patrick Dodson

Newark Police Department Detective Al Costeira and Officer Jose Rebelo both immigrated to the United States from Portugal as young children about 40 years ago. Costeira, 43, came when he was three years old, while 49-year-old Rebelo made the journey as a five year old.

As part of Portuguese Heritage Night at Prudential Center on March 20, the New Jersey Devils honored the two police officers as the team’s Heroes of the Game during the Devils’ afternoon match-up against the Blue Jackets. The in-game recognition was a centerpiece of the day’s celebration of Newark’s Portuguese heritage, which included performances on the main concourse before the game, the presentation of the flags by members of the Portuguese American Police Association and a special singing of the National Anthem by Lauren Guerra.

Both Costeira and Rebelo said they felt honored to be celebrated as heroes at Prudential Center. “It’s great, and I know a lot of these people out here [tonight], and of course they also know me,” Rebelo said. “I feel honored to be here tonight.”

On February 12, 2014, Costeira and Rebelo responded to a call for help in Newark’s Ironbound, eventually rescuing a 10-year-old boy being attacked by two pit bulls. The incident began when the child tried to break up a fight among the dogs.

Costeira was the first to respond, with Rebelo serving as backup support. After a short while, they were eventually able to neutralize the dogs, and begin administering first aid while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

“’Save the little boy,’ that was the only thing that was in my mind,” Rebelo said.

Costeira said he nearly took the child to the hospital himself, not wanting to wait, but his car got stuck due to snowfall. “I called EMS again, but they came to the wrong part of the complex, so I walked him through the snow [to the ambulance,] Costeira added.

As Costeira moved to bring the child to the arriving ambulance, Rebelo went through the apartment, searching for a second child. “The call was two kids in the building. I went up looking for the other one…. Later we found out that the other child was taken with the parent, he was a taxi driver.”

The experience hit close to home for Costeira, who explained that he was attacked by a neighbor’s dog when he was two years old still living in Portugal. As he went through the situation, Costeira said he remembered thinking about his kids, as well as the incident from his childhood. Costeira said despite the incidents, he loves dogs and his family is currently discussing the possibility of getting one.

The child eventually made a full recovery and a few months later, at a Fraternal Order of Police event, Costeira had the chance to meet him, as he received an award for his action. “They surprised me with the little boy…It took my memories away from just grabbing him, from that day at the incident, to now seeing him walking on his own.”

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