Michael LaFauci, police officer wounded in shooting, says he is 'lucky to be alive' as he leaves hospital
Bagpipes skirled, drums boomed and hundreds of well-wishers cheered on a sunny Thursday morning as the Suffolk County police officer who was shot last week during a robbery investigation in Coram was released from Stony Brook University Hospital.
Officer Michael LaFauci was accompanied by his fiancee — a Stony Brook EMT — and their 17-month-old daughter as he left the hospital in a wheelchair pushed by Dr. James Vosswinkel, Stony Brook’s head of trauma surgery and the Suffolk police medical director.
Scores of uniformed officers, off-duty cops, and police union leaders stood outside the Stony Brook lobby, along with hospital staff members and other well-wishers, to give LaFauci a hero’s greeting
“Very happy to go home, lucky to be alive, lucky to be alive,” said the 27-year-old plainclothes officer, a resident of Suffolk County, before he climbed into a large, black Chevrolet SUV to return home with his family.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Suffolk County Police Officer Michael LaFauci, who was shot last week during a robbery investigation in Coram, was released from Stony Brook University Hospital Thrusday.
- LaFauci was accompanied by his fiancee — a Stony Brook EMT — and their 17-month-old daughter as he left the hospital in a wheelchair as scores of uniformed officers, off-duty cops, and police union leaders cheered outside the hospital lobby.
- Alleged Bloods member Janell Funderburke, 20, of Coram, shot LaFauci on May 11 with a hollow-point bullet, which expands on impact and is designed to inflict significant damage to interior tissue and bones, officials said.
Police officials and union leaders said LaFauci’s discharge was bittersweet — they were overjoyed that he survived the shooting, furious that he had been severely injured and faces a long and possibly difficult recovery.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have a frustration,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said during a news conference before LaFauci’s release, echoing the sentiment of many in the audience. “I have an anger, that somebody shot one of my police officers. He tried to take Mike away from us.”
Harrison and Vosswinkel, who led the surgery team that operated on LaFauci, said alleged Bloods member Janell Funderburke, 20, of Coram, shot LaFauci on May 11 with a hollow-point bullet, which expands on impact and is designed to inflict significant damage to interior tissue and bones. The bullet went through his right thigh, crossed through his pelvis to his left buttock, Vosswinkel said, but there was no major damage to arteries and organs.
“A 9-mm hollow-point bullet, that is designed to do maximum damage as it tears, rips, pulls tissue went through him, and we are discharging him today,” the surgeon said. “That’s a lot more than medicine can do. That’s an angel looking out for him.”
LaFauci’s right leg remains partially paralyzed, the surgeon said. “We are hoping and praying that he makes full recovery,” he said, “but right now I can’t say with medical certainty that he will.”
Suffolk prosecutors said Funderburke, who was under investigation for an armed robbery he allegedly committed during a marijuana deal, admitted shooting LaFauci, a six-year member of the department. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the shooting is a reminder of the dangers police officers “find themselves in, and place themselves in” to keep their communities safe.
“A dangerous individual has been taken off the streets and we don’t know — we will never know — but somebody, people’s lives may have been saved because of what he was willing to do and his fellow officers were willing to do,” Bellone said of LaFauci.
LaFauci’s mother, Lori Lafauci, was among those at the hospital who cheered her son’s discharge.
“We’re just blessed,” she said. “We just want to thank the hospital, the nurses, the 6th precinct, the entire Suffolk County Police Department family.”
Also present was Det. Kevin Staubitz, one of the officers who provided first aid to LaFauci at the scene.
"It's the one thing you never want to hear, that a fellow police officer, that another cop was shot," Staubitz said. "At that point immediately, I think every police officer working that day had the same instinct, to go and help."
Funderburke, whom prosecutors called “an admitted Bloods gang member,” is being held without bail. He has been charged with attempted aggravated murder of a police officer, first-degree robbery and second-degree menacing with a weapon. Defense attorney Christopher Cassar of Huntington said last week his client denies the allegations, including claims he is a gang member.
Funderburke was one of four people pulled from a burning vehicle by Suffolk police in Deer Park less than a year ago, officials confirmed. He was a passenger in a BMW that overturned and burst into flames after the driver fled a traffic stop.
“A Suffolk County police officer saved his life, only for him in return to attempt to kill one of them himself,” Suffolk Police Benevolent Association President Noel DiGerolamo said.
Funderburke, then 19, was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm and two counts of criminal possession of a substance and criminal contempt, police said.
Walking out of the Third Precinct in Bay Shore last week, Funderburke was asked if he wanted to say anything to the officer and his family, "Yeah, tell 'em I said I'm sorry,” the defendant said. “I didn't mean it."
Harrison suggested the contrition sounded hollow.
“I don’t want to hear apologies,” Harrison said. “I want accountability. I want to make sure the individual involved is held responsible."
With Cecilia Dowd and James Carbone