The four lives lost in Medford pharmacy shooting

Community members continue to visit Haven Drugs, leaving

Community members continue to visit Haven Drugs, leaving flowers and other tributes to the four people shot to death in the Medford pharmacy on Father's Day. (June 25, 2011) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

Bryon Sheffield was giddy to have Sheila home, finally. His wife's heart surgery had been postponed once, but now it was over, and she had come through just fine. He was eager to care for her, and his first task Sunday morning was to pick up her medication.

Jennifer Mejia had just finished her last week of high school. She spent June 14, a Tuesday, at Bellport High signing yearbooks and talking about summer plans. But first, she had a few more work shifts. Sunday morning, standing behind the counter at Haven Drugs, her mind drifted to two things: prom and graduation.

Raymond Ferguson, looking to unwind after a long workweek, spent Saturday night with co-workers from Waldbaum's pharmacy. Ferguson, with no kids of his own, had agreed to work Sunday at Haven Drugs so that another pharmacist could spend Father's Day with his family.

At the same time, Jaime Taccetta and her fiance were planning one whopper of a Father's Day barbecue. They had spent $300 on groceries -- lamb chops and filet mignon -- for the big day. They were planning to test-drive a Kia SUV Sunday morning, but first decided to stop at their neighborhood pharmacy to get her regular thyroid medication.

By chance, all of them were at Haven Drugs, a friendly neighborhood pharmacy, just after 10 Sunday morning when David Laffer walked in, investigators say, to rob the place for a stash of prescription drugs.

Two days after the four people were shot down in cold blood, longtime Haven customer Catherine Raycroft visited the scene and said what every Long Islander was thinking: "It could have been any of us."

Raymond Ferguson showed 'there can be good in the world'

Talk to those who knew him and they all talk about that smile.

"The guy was just forever smiling," said Mike Clune of Garden City, who went to St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, with Raymond Ferguson. "He didn't have to turn it on."

Ferguson, 45, forged close ties with his St. Francis classmates. Nearing three decades after graduation, members of the class of 1983 continued a tradition of gathering a few times each year. He was a regular at what the group called their "bootleg" reunions.

Ivanhoe Gadpaille's family, like Ferguson's, has roots in Panama. The two young men bonded at St. Francis, where Gadpaille remembers his friend as calm, cool and "extremely smart."

Gadpaille, of the Hollis section of Queens, and others say Ferguson was a steady man, a calming presence. The more chaotic a situation, the more collected he became.

That presence must have been comforting to the elderly woman he helped after her car broke down a month ago. Ferguson had been driving near his home when he pulled behind a car stopped on Middle Country Road.

Its driver, a 77-year-old woman with back problems, had started to lose feeling in her legs and could not operate the brake or gas pedals. Ferguson moved the woman's car off the road and gave her his cellphone so she could call her family. Then, Ferguson drove her home to Selden.

He was a reminder that "there can be good in the world," Gadpaille said.

Ferguson, who got his pharmacology degree at St. John's University, was an only child. He and his wife, Viedya Sabrina Quail-Ferguson, had no kids. He cherished Quail-Ferguson's brother's children.

Quail-Ferguson last spoke to her husband at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday a week ago, she said. They were to attend a niece’s elementary school graduation two days later.

A Facebook entry listed Ferguson as separated, though Gadpaille said of his friend: "He was trying to make things work, he really was," and that they were in regular contact.

Ray planned to go out with friends from the Waldbaum’s pharmacy in Melville, where he had a full-time job, that Saturday night. He’d worked that day too, but at Haven Drugs in Medford. He wanted to retire early, enjoy life, and took extra shifts at Haven Drugs, working every other Saturday, Quail-Ferguson said.

Stacy Gallagher, 42, who lives in the neighborhood, visited Haven Drugs with her mother about 1 p.m. that day. She filled a prescription to treat her 14-year-old's poison ivy. Ferguson told her to make sure he took the pills with food and suggested she also get an ointment for the rash. He would not fill a prescription that her mother, Marie Michelsen, had been given for Xanax because, unknown to her, it had expired that day.

"I thought that was very honorable of him," said Michelsen, 71.

The next morning, after agreeing to work from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ferguson drove his white Nissan Maxima 10 miles from his Centereach home. He arrived in time to open at 10 a.m.

Jennifer Mejia: Graduation, blue prom dress were on her horizon

The bell rang at 1:52, and Jennifer Mejia stepped out into the damp, chilly afternoon. The date was June 14, but at 65 degrees, it felt more like March.

She had finished her last exam, and now it was time for laughing with classmates, signing yearbooks, talking about the summer ahead, and their lives beyond that.

She planned to attend community college in the fall. Mejia, 17, wanted to work in the medical field, perhaps as a physician's assistant, an interest she had cultivated at her after-school job in a local pharmacy. The prom was eight days away, her graduation ceremony nine.

Mejia had worked at Haven Drugs for about two years. She was generous with the money she earned, sending her first paycheck to her grandmother in El Salvador, where her parents Rene and Antonia, and two older brothers were born. After visiting El Salvador last year on a mission with her local church, she started to donate a portion of her paycheck to some needy residents there.

The Mejias were devout Catholics and members of the Hispanic Apostolate for the Roman Catholic Church in Brookhaven Town. They also attended Spanish Mass at St. John the Evangelist in Center Moriches, where the Rev. Freddy Lozano is very close to the Mejia family.

On her last Saturday night, Mejia attended 7:30 Mass and brought the regular offerings of bread and wine to the altar. Back home, Father Lozano visited, talking about his next mission trip to El Salvador. As her parents talked to the priest, Jennifer snacked on croissants, joking: "If you're not going to eat any, I will."

Later that night, she modeled her blue prom dress.

The next morning, Jennifer's dad said, she left the house at 9:58 a.m. to get to work. She was running late to get there by 10 a.m. As she rushed out, she called back to her father: "We'll see each other in the afternoon."

She left so fast he didn't really have time to hug her.

Rene left El Salvador in the 1980s amid that country's brutal civil war. He had done well on Long Island, starting his own construction business, Mejia Construction, and buying a two-level house with a nicely manicured lawn in a solid middle-class neighborhood. It was here on Long Island that both his daughters were born.

Jaime Taccetta would have been 'perfect wife'

With her wedding less than four months away, Jaime Taccetta had been working out regularly at the gym, and friends said she was going to look beautiful in her gown. She couldn't wait for the ceremony, planned at Brentwood Country Club.

Taccetta lived with her fiance, James Manzella, in Farmingville. Taccetta planted flowers and vegetables in the backyard and built a butterfly garden in honor of his mother, who had died in November.

On June 15, her fiance visited the Lake Ronkonkoma home of Gina and Tommy Guccione, close friends of the couple. Manzella told them how much he adored Taccetta and that finally, at age 36, he'd found the woman who would have been "the perfect wife."

A few days later, the couples had dinner at a Smokey Bones in Holtsville. Gina Guccione told Taccetta how Manzella had been raving about her, days before. Taccetta beamed.

"She was just smiling from ear to ear," Guccione said. "That was such a gift for me to say to her. . . . It was just a very happy time."

It would have been the second marriage for Taccetta, 33.

She had met James Malone when she was 16, and he was 18. They spent 15 years together, had two daughters, and divorced in 2006.

Their eldest Miranda is 16; Kaitlyn is 6. Miranda lives with Malone and Kaitlyn split her time between both parents.

Taccetta worked as a physical therapist's aide at St. Charles Rehabilitation in Centereach. Kim Piekarski, 45, of Sound Beach, holds the same position and the two were good friends.

Piekarski said Taccetta was very involved with her kids. "It was always, 'I got to run home to Kaitlyn, or I got to go see Miranda,' " Piekarski said.

Lately her friend had also been talking a lot about her wedding, Piekarski said, paying attention to the fine details.

"She said she wanted to have her hair a little bit longer and wanted to have a little wave, to put in some curls," Piekarski said. "She was just very excited for the day."

The last time Piekarski saw her friend was Thursday about 7:30 p.m. as they left work. "She pulled up next to my car . . . said 'I love you' and drove away."

Gina Guccione said Taccetta spent most of Saturday cleaning the house. She helped Manzella go through some of his mother's belongings. She had died in November.

And they prepared for Sunday's cookout. Guccione spoke to Taccetta twice that evening, at 6:30 and then at 9.

She was exhausted from all the work, Taccetta told her friend. The fridge was stocked with the meat they planned to grill. Taccetta made sangria, and asked Guccione and her husband to come over, but they declined, knowing they'd see each other the next day for the barbecue.

The party was supposed to start at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. They wanted to find an SUV for Taccetta, because the couple was planning to start their own family. But before test driving the car, they decided to stop at the drugstore for her thyroid medication. It was just before 10:10 a.m.

Bryon Sheffield was married to high school sweetheart for about 50 years

Bryon Sheffield, 71, spent all of his last week at Stony Brook University Medical Center, fussing and watching over his beloved Sheila. Bryon and Sheila were sweethearts at Babylon High School and had been married almost 50 years.

A week earlier, they and their son had been splitting and stacking firewood for the wood-burning stove in their living room. The couple liked to keep a fire stoked in the winter. Sheila had come into contact with some poison ivy as a result and developed an itchy rash.

Sheila Sheffield had been scheduled for triple bypass surgery, but the poison ivy had forced them to wait a few extra days. Finally on Monday, June 13, doctors operated.

The surgery had gone well, and now Bryon was at her side. At home, without her, Bryon wandered around the house like someone who was lost, because without Sheila, he was.

At the hospital, Bryon brought her water, read cards people sent her, told her who had called. After all these years, Sheila still laughed at all of Bryon's jokes, even if she had heard them before.

Just as he was a devoted husband, Sheffield was also a devoted older brother to Jeff, who was 15 years younger. Bryon was more of a father figure than a brother to Jeff, teaching him about cars, and how to fish and shoot pool.

Bryon Sheffield, retired, had owned auto repair shops in Medford, Yaphank and Brookhaven. Bryon was a good carpenter and often built elaborate displays for Jeff's floral business, like a 12-foot sled.

"It was a great relationship," said Mary Sheffield, Jeff Sheffield's wife. "Even as they grew older, they stayed very close."

Sheila and Bryon's children had a surprise planned for their 50th wedding anniversary on July 16. After dinner with the family at a restaurant, their daughter, Laura Bustamante, planned to bring them back to her house for a party.

On Saturday, June 18, he and Laura and his son Brian brought Sheila home from the hospital. They arrived home about 4 p.m. One of Bryon's children called Haven Drugs, the couple's regular pharmacy, to order their mother's heart medication, and learned, from a recording, that the store had just closed. The recording stated the store would open the next day at 10 a.m. Bryon planned to go first thing.

Epilogue

Jennifer Mejia never made it to graduation Thursday, but was the center of the ceremony. Her classmates wore purple ribbons in her memory and released white balloons as the ceremony began. Everyone who spoke, from the class president to the principal, mentioned Mejia, urging the students to live fully because that is what Mejia would have wanted them to do.

Bob Mouzakes of East Patchogue had never met Raymond Ferguson. But on Wednesday, Mouzakes showed up at Ferguson's wake. He wanted to pay his respects to the man who stopped to help a stranger late one night. The elderly woman Ferguson had rescued on Middle Country Road was Mouzakes' mother.

The same day, the TV was on at the Sheffield home when the news broke. Bryon Sheffield's wife, Sheila, sobbed as she watched a report. Police had arrested David Laffer and Melinda Brady.

On Monday night, friends and family gathered at James Manzella's home to remember Jaime Taccetta. All the food prepared for the Father's Day barbecue was still sitting in the refrigerator. They began to cook, because that's what Jaime would have wanted.

Also Monday, Viedya Sabrina Quail-Ferguson did something she'd never before had reason to do. She went through the papers her husband, Raymond Ferguson, kept in his desk. She found a note written by him in blue ink: "Enjoy life. Not every single moment of your day is hectic, stressful and filled with problems. Upon reflection if it 'truly' is so, then it is time for a change. Whatever state your life is in now take a moment to appreciate it because tomorrow it is a memory."

With Michael Amon, Sophia Chang, Matthew Chayes, Sarah Crichton, Bart Jones, Tania Lopez, Victor Manuel Ramos, Jennifer Smith, Andrew Strickler, John Valenti, Patrick Whittle and Olivia Winslow

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