Police: Gunman fired 'potentially 3 shots' at Melius
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A masked, hooded shooter fired "potentially three shots" at Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius while he was in his car on Monday, striking him once in the head, but not impacting his skull, Suffolk police said Tuesday.
The identity of the shooter remained a mystery in a case with no witnesses, suspect or motive, police said. Investigators weren't even sure if the shooter, wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, is male or female. Police said Melius had not filed any reports recently of being threatened or harassed.
Melius was in his car 12:30 p.m. Monday when the shooter, without saying a word, attacked, police said. The shooting occurred in the parking area of the historic mansion, a high-end hotel and catering venue and also the home of Melius, 69, a developer and major political donor.
"Mr. Melius was seated in the car," Det. Sgt. John O'Sullivan said. "The window was up. . . . We have potentially three shots fired. It's still part of the investigation, how many were fired."
A law enforcement source said investigators believe the gun may have malfunctioned because they found two full rounds on the ground.
Police interviewed Melius and family members at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset Tuesday, O'Sullivan said, adding that all aspects of his life will be investigated to determine who shot him. Suffolk officers and security guards were stationed on his floor, but a police spokeswoman said that was "protocol" and not an indication of a threat.
Because Melius went into shock upon being shot, his recollection of the details is unclear. He was physically improving and resting comfortably Tuesday, but he was concerned for his welfare and that of his family, O'Sullivan said.
Second Precinct detectives have cast a wide investigative net to solve the case, from looking at the victim's business deals to requesting the public's help in finding the suspect's getaway vehicle, a "neutral" colored, four-door, SUV-type captured on surveillance video, police said. They set up a Jericho Turnpike checkpoint Tuesday, stopping motorists to ask if they saw anything unusual the day before around the time of the shooting.
Melius was the "target" of the shooting, said O'Sullivan.
"There was one shot that hit Mr. Melius," the detective sergeant said. "There was no bullet to be removed."
Melius sounded upbeat in a statement issued by his family, saying he was ready to go back to work. "From the bottom of my heart, I will be forever grateful to the people who have offered prayers and best wishes, to the doctors who worked on me and, most of all, to my family, who are clearly made of very strong stuff," Melius said in the statement.
He added that the attack has helped him get perspective on life. "If this near-death experience has done anything, it is a reminder to live each day, celebrate life and embrace your family," Melius said. "I happen to be blessed with a very, very large extended family who rallied to my side during the past 24 hours."
The checkpoint Tuesday on Jericho Turnpike, between Avery and Plainview roads, was set up about noon to seek tips in the shooting. About 10 officers and detectives spoke to drivers in both the eastbound and westbound lanes.
"We're just stopping cars to see if anyone has any information about the shooting yesterday," Det. Henry Valerio said.
Shortly before wrapping up the checkpoint about 1:30 p.m., Valerio said that so far they hadn't culled any leads as a result.
A police spokeswoman said another checkpoint may be set up in the future.
Interviewed by phone Tuesday, Rick Bellando, Oheka's longtime catering director, said Melius was focused on concern for Oheka's employees. "He's checking in to make sure we're up and running," said Bellando, who also is the chairman of Nassau's Independence Party. "He said, 'Make sure you take care of everyone.' "
Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a close friend of the high-profile Long Island political player, released a statement and tweeted about Melius' condition Tuesday.
"He is thankful for the grace of God that saved his life and is grateful for your prayers and good wishes," D'Amato said in his statement.
Phyllis Aurrichio attempted to visit the castle Tuesday afternoon, but was turned away at the gates. She wanted to check out the facility for her nephew, who hopes to get married there.
Aurrichio, 52, a business owner from St. James, said she had only learned of Monday's shooting from the security guard, who advised her to call in a few days. But, she said, it wouldn't deter her family members from celebrating at the castle.
"I'd still come here," said Aurrichio. But, she added, "I feel terrible."
With Paul LaRocco,
Tania Lopez, Robert Brodsky and Darran Simon