Born on Independence Day in 1961, Samuel Friedlander grew up in North Massapequa as the quiet, studious child of a union electrician and substitute teacher, former neighbors said Thursday.
He was an up-and-coming young prosecutor in the early 1990s in the Suffolk district attorney's office, a former colleague said.
Those who remembered the 1979 Farmingdale High School graduate were shocked Thursday when they learned that Friedlander murdered his wife and two young children before killing himself at the family's Westchester County home.
Former Suffolk prosecutor Tad Scharfenberg remembered Friedlander as "the nicest guy you could imagine," adding, "He'd be the last person that I know of that would wind up doing what he did."
"It's unexplainable," said Scharfenberg, now a private attorney, who worked with Friedlander in the district attorney's white-collar crime unit. "It's inconsistent with the person that I knew."
The bodies of Friedlander, 50, his wife Amy, 46, and their two children were found Tuesday at their Cross River home. Police said Friedlander and his wife were divorcing.
State Police said Friedlander used a furniture leg to bludgeon his wife to death in the master bedroom and shot his children, Gregory, 8, and Molly, 10, in their beds. Friedlander then shot himself to death in the home's unfinished basement.
Friedlander's former North Massapequa neighbors said Thursday they struggled to reconcile the horrific deaths with their memories of the bright child whose mother, Marion, doted on him while three older brothers went to Woodstock.
"He was always kind of like the darling of the family," said Mitchell Gardner, of Brentwood, Calif., who grew up two doors down from the Friedlanders. "He was always the strait-laced one."
Attempts to reach Friedlander's family were unsuccessful.
At Farmingdale High School, he ran track, played soccer, belonged to the Key Club and was photo editor of the yearbook and staff member of the student paper, The Paper Lion.
Gardner's brother, Matthew, of Massapequa, said Friedlander was born on July 4, 1961, and named after an uncle. "I used to joke that he was a real, live nephew of his Uncle Sam," Matthew Gardner said. "He was a nice kid."
Friedlander joined the Suffolk district attorney's office in 1992 and left in 1994, said Robert Clifford, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota. "He clearly was seen as a bright light in the DA's office," Scharfenberg said.
Scharfenberg said he met Amy Friedlander several times before he and Sam drifted apart. "It seemed like two extremely bright, Type-A personalities who were going to be very successful and had a good plan," Scharfenberg said. "I don't know what happened."
With Matthew Chayes
and Andrew Smith