Arrest ends manhunt in NY drug store shooting
Thursday, June 23, 2011
MEDFORD, N.Y. (AP) — The tall, gaunt man entered the pharmacy cloaked in a loose sweat shirt, baseball cap and glasses. His thin face was hidden under a bushy beard as he opened fire, killing all four people inside during a robbery for painkillers.
Police circulated clear surveillance photos of the suspect after the weekend shooting, and received hundreds of tips in an intense manhunt that ended Wednesday with the capture of a 33-year-old who was led from his Long Island home in handcuffs.
David Laffer, who a few years ago proposed to his now-wife at a New York Islanders hockey game, was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder and resisting arrest, according to Suffolk County Police. He was being held overnight at the Fifth Precinct and was scheduled for arraignment Thursday, police said.
Laffer said nothing as he was led from police headquarters Wednesday wearing a white jumpsuit. He was later briefly hospitalized, but officials did not say why.
His wife, 29-year-old Melinda Brady, also was taken away. She was arrested on charges of robbery for her involvement in the drug store heist and obstructing governmental administration. Her role in the robbery wasn’t specified. Police said she was being held overnight and also is to be arraigned Thursday.
Friends and neighbors said they did not believe Laffer, whom they described as polite and friendly, was the shooter.
About 30 to 40 officers converged on Laffer’s home early Wednesday, said Peter Spano, a landscaper who was working on the lawn next door. Spano said the thin, “distraught” man resembled the suspect in the surveillance photos, except without a beard.
Friends and neighbors said if there were drug problems, they did not see it. He lived at his family’s home in Medford with his mother, Pam, and his wife.
According to their wedding announcement, Laffer and his future wife met while they were out to dinner with mutual friends, and he proposed to her at an Islanders game. “To Melinda’s complete surprise, he had been planning the engagement for more than a year and his proposal was shown on the large TV screens in the arena,” according to the 2009 announcement.
Next-door neighbor Trish Bohlert attended the wedding and said Laffer was always friendly.
“Something must have made him snap, because his personality, I can’t picture him robbing a store, much less hurt people,” she said.
Zaida Ayala, a longtime neighbor, said she had spoken to Laffer’s mother Tuesday about the shooting.
“She was shocked,” by the violence, Ayala said. “She says ‘now we can’t even go walking around at night.”’
Ayala said Laffer is “a guy that I feel comfortable with, a guy that I could be out, 1 o’clock in the morning in my backyard, and he could be in his backyard and I wouldn’t run inside and go get my husband.”
She said she does not believe he is the shooter.
“You could give me a million dollars to pick somebody and he would be the last person I would’ve picked,” she said.
His Facebook page showed he was interested in weapons and science fiction. He lists himself as a fan of the conspiracy-based science fiction drama “Dark Skies” and the Spike TV show “Deadliest Warrior.” He also lists Springfield XD, a type of pistol, among his interests.
The wedding announcement said Laffer worked in logistics shipping and receiving, but it’s not clear if he was currently employed.
The shootings happened Sunday at about 10:20 a.m. inside Haven Drugs, a pharmacy in a small cluster of medical offices in Medford, about 60 miles east of New York City.
The victims were shot at very close range by the man bent on stealing painkillers.
Everyone in the pharmacy at the time of the robbery was killed. The victims were identified as two employees, pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, and store clerk Jennifer Mejia, 17, of East Patchogue, and two customers, Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford, and Jamie Taccetta, a 33-year-old woman from Farmingville.
It was the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since 1974, when a man shot six relatives to death in Amityville, a crime that spawned horror films and a book after the family’s home was said to be haunted.
At the pharmacy, about a mile and a half away from the Laffer home, bouquets of fresh flowers, and stuffed animals lined the shuttered storefront. A sign read, “closed until further notice.”
Associated Press writer Karen Zraick contributed to this report.