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Cops search for killer of 4 in Medford

Two patrons and a pair of employees were

Two patrons and a pair of employees were found shot and killed at Haven Drugs in Medford, police say. Suffolk Police say the suspect, who they believe stole prescription drugs from the store, was armed with a handgun and should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.

Two patrons and a pair of employees were found shot and killed at a Medford drugstore shortly after it opened Sunday morning, triggering a manhunt for the killer, Suffolk police said.

Surveillance video being reviewed Sunday by homicide detectives captured images of a man in his late 20s or early 30s, about 5-foot-8 with a thin build. He has dark hair and was unshaven or has a dark beard and mustache.

Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone said police suspect robbery was the motive in the Father's Day killings, which occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Police said the suspect stole an unspecified amount of prescription drugs from Haven Drugs after walking into the pharmacy brandishing a handgun and carrying a black backpack. He shot everyone inside the store, police said.

One of the victims, Jennifer Mejia, 18, of Medford, a pharmacist's assistant at the drugstore, was to graduate Thursday from Bellport High School in Brookhaven and planned to attend Suffolk County Community College in the fall.

The other victims were pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, and customers Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford, and Jaime Taccetta, 33, of Farmingville.

While a friend said that Mejia was not scheduled to work Sunday and was covering someone else's shift, pharmacy owner Vinoda Kudchadkar was supposed to open the store but decided to attend religious services first, friends said.

Mejia's father, Rene Mejia, 43, said he last saw his daughter about 10 a.m. as she rushed out the door to go to work. "She just said, 'Happy Father's Day, we'll see each other in the afternoon,' " he recalled.

About 20 minutes later, he got a call about trouble at the pharmacy and rushed there to find his daughter dead. "I feel sad because I didn't even hold her," Rene Mejia said.

A woman who answered the door at Sheffield's home did not want to respond to questions. A neighbor who did not want to give his name said Sheffield was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He described his neighbor as friendly but quiet. "The guy that lived down there was a hell of a nice guy," he said.

Close friends of Taccetta declined comment. No one answered the door late Sunday at Ferguson's large, two-story home at the end of a Centereach cul-de-sac.

Investigators would not say where the four victims were found, but believe all of them were killed with the same gun. The suspect was reportedly seen running east on Southhaven Avenue wearing a backpack. Police were searching for suspects last night.

A police spokeswoman said she could not answer questions about whether the victims struggled or argued with the suspect before they were killed.

"This is a vicious, horrible crime," Varrone said. "We are dedicating a great number of resources. Right now our primary interest is apprehending the individual or individuals involved." Varrone said that while robberies and burglaries of pharmacies are not uncommon, "certainly a crime of this magnitude, where four people are shot, is very unusual."

Suffolk County Det. Lt Gerard Pelkofsky said that at about 10:23 a.m. Fifth Precinct officers were called to the scene of a robbery at Haven Drugs, at 76 Southaven Ave., involving possible deaths. When officers arrived, they found four bodies inside the pharmacy, police said.

"It appears at this time that there was one person involved, but that's also under investigation," Pelkofsky said.

The 911 call came from a man who arrived at the drugstore with his girlfriend, who went inside the pharmacy. After she didn't return, the man, who was not identified, went into the business and discovered the bodies, according to a law enforcement source.

Soma Pulipati, a cardiologist who works in the plaza, said the pharmacy's owner installed security cameras last month in response to previous armed robberies. "But see, cameras don't prevent these things," Pulipati said from just outside the crime scene last night. "They only help after."

Noting that Kudchadkar had gone to religious services before work, Pulipati, a friend of more than a decade, said, "God saved him."

Kudchadkar, of Bayport, passed out after he saw the scene at his store. A spokesman for Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center said Kudchadkar was admitted to the hospital for observation and was in fair condition Sunday night.

One woman at the scene, Debbie Obrien, of Medford, said, "I'm shocked. It could have been any of us. I go there two times a week." Obrien said the pharmacy was robbed twice before, but nobody had been hurt."It's a family, neighborhood pharmacy and they know you by name," she said.

With Tania Lopez, Bart Jones, Andrew Strickler, Michael Amon, Paul Larocco and Mikala Jamison

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