David Laffer loved the military, enough to enlist in the Army seven months before graduating from high school. He loved the Islanders, enough to propose to his fiancee on the big screen at Nassau Coliseum during a game, and regularly post comments on fan forums. Despite his slight frame, he played goalie for years in a street hockey league.
But in recent years, some friends say, the man they knew had changed drastically, and according to a law enforcement source, was abusing drugs. A former friend who visited Laffer's house last year said he saw ammunition and hand grenades.
He had stopped playing hockey because of a back condition and lost touch with many of his teammates, they said. Two weeks ago, he lost his job after being accused of trying to steal property from a co-worker, a law enforcement source said.
Now, Laffer, 33, is being held in what police describe as one of Long Island's most cold-blooded, shocking crimes in recent memory. He is suspected of gunning down four people at Haven Drugs in Medford before stealing thousands of prescription painkillers from the drugstore.
After a three-day manhunt, Suffolk police arrested Laffer Wednesday morning at the house on Pitchpine Place in Medford that he shared with his wife and mother. As he was taken away in handcuffs, Laffer looked like "something before death," said roofer Peter Spano, who was working in the area when police descended on the home.
Regularly taking drugs
Mike Farina, 38, of Oakdale, who worked with Laffer at a bakery nearly a decade ago, said he had been "the most straight of my friends. He didn't drink or do anything." But toward the end of their friendship, Laffer told Farina that he was regularly taking Vicodin. "He just said it made him feel good. He didn't say it was addiction. He just said it was his thing."
According to a childhood friend, Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, had health problems that caused her chronic pain. She, too, was a drug abuser, law enforcement sources said. Last weekend, Brady "was trying to find out if anyone knew what hospital she can go to to get a script for pain pills," said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The couple had no health insurance, the friend said.
Laffer and his wife live with his mother, Pam, according to neighbors, who said he sometimes hosted Wiffle ball games and let them use his backyard pool. "I can't believe that this happened," said neighbor Michael Pagliuca.
Laffer's father, Gary, a teacher for nearly three decades in the Bellmore-Merrick school district, died in 1996. According to an obituary in Newsday, David Laffer had a sister, Tara, who at the time was serving on the Sachem Board of Education. Neither the mother nor sister could be reached.
Until a few weeks ago, David Laffer worked at COSA Xentaur Instrument Corp., which, according to its website, distributes devices like optical moisture meters that measure humidity, and gas chromatographs at its Yaphank headquarters.
An attorney for the company, Paul Rubell of Mineola, confirmed Laffer was a former employee but said company policy forbade the release of further information.
Last Friday Laffer applied, for the first time, for food stamps on a government website, according to a source who saw the case file. Suffolk Department of Social Services had not yet acted on the application.
Participated in ROTC
Laffer had been fascinated with the military as a student at Patchogue-Medford High School, where he had participated in the Air Force Junior ROTC program, according to classmate Brian Heaton. "David was a good cadet and a nice guy," Heaton said. "We lost touch after high school."
According to military records, Laffer was an Army intelligence analyst from 1994 to 2002, leaving with the rank of private first class. The Army command office in charge of his former unit could not provide details on his service, nor say whether any of the time was in the Reserves.
From 1998 to 2004, Laffer worked at Wenner Bread Products in Bayport as a foreman in the shipping department.
Farina, a co-worker there, said he last saw him more than a year ago when Laffer invited him to his home to check out a new television.
At the house, Farina noticed a "stockpile of ammunition and grenades."
"I knew he had firearms in the house," Farina said. "That was a little weird for an average person, but I knew he was in the military."
There are references on Laffer's Facebook page to the military, war games, UFO conspiracies and guns. Laffer's Facebook profile shows him posed with his street hockey team, and skydiving in Mexico. He also posted his wedding photo on his page.
Laffer was passionate about hockey both as a spectator and participant. He could debate the sport forever, one former teammate said. As a player, he was knocked around a lot because of his slight build, said the teammate who did not want to be identified, and tended to dwell on his mistakes.
"He couldn't get a bad goal out of his head," the friend said. "He would hang on for days talking about it."
The friend also said Laffer was generous, once buying him a pair of hockey gloves after he had lost his, and refusing payment for them.
Teammates nicknamed him Goliath -- a joking reference to his given name. He played street hockey at least three years.
Laffer and Brady married on Jan. 2, 2009, after a four-year courtship, according to a wedding announcement. She is four years younger.
The couple held an interfaith ceremony -- he is Jewish; she is Christian -- and danced to "At Last" by Etta James for their first song.
"I couldn't see myself with anyone else but him," Brady wrote on a wedding website about 18 months before the wedding. "He is my best friend and my soul mate."
With Michael Amon, Sophia Chang, Gary Dymski, Alison Eaves, Martin C. Evans, Jennifer Maloney, Andrew Strickler and Will Van Sant