Good Morning
Good Morning
Long IslandSuffolk

Mourners pay respects at scene of tragedy

Lesley Mejia, sister of shooting victim Jennifer Mejia,

Lesley Mejia, sister of shooting victim Jennifer Mejia, 17, reacts after visiting the scene at Haven Drugs in Medford the day after her sister was slain. (June 20, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Six tall religious candles stood on the sidewalk not far from the pharmacy where four people, including a teenager about to graduate high school, were shot and killed Sunday during a brutal robbery in Medford.

"Sagrado Corazon de Jesus," the message on one of the candles read. Sacred Heart of Jesus. The flames struggled to stay alight in an early-morning breeze. A pink-wrapped bouquet lay nearby on the grass.

Suffolk County police are searching for the man caught on surveillance video inside Haven Drugs on Southaven Avenue. They believe he shot and killed Jennifer Mejia, 17, of Medford, a pharmacist's assistant who was to graduate this week from Bellport High School, as well as pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, and customers Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford, and Jaime Taccetta, 33, of Farmingville.

"She was a great girl," Jennifer Mejia's sister, Lesley Mejia, said moments before she collapsed in tears at the makeshift memorial Monday. "My sister was a great person. She didn't deserve the way she died."

Another mourner who came to remember the victims Monday, Stephanie Meoli-Lauenborg, 39, of Bayport, wept as she wedged pink and purple flowers into the shuttered front of Haven Drugs, then made the sign of the cross and whispered a prayer.

"I used to come here as a little girl and get gum," Meoli-Lauenborg said, holding her 21-month-old daughter Giada in her arms. "I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted."

She said her mother had gone to the drugstore right after the shooting Sunday, which police believe occurred shortly after 10 a.m.

"She called me," Meoli-Lauenborg said, "and said, 'There's a shooting! There's a shooting! I can't get in.'"

She shuddered to think her mother could have been a victim -- had she gone to the store even just minutes earlier.

Meanwhile, a man who answered the last-known address for Taccetta on Granny Road in Farmingville said Taccetta had moved in to the house with her fiance a few months ago.

Taccetta's father, Ralph Taccetta of Shirley, said his daughter was set to get married next month.

The man who answered the door at the Farmingville home said everyone is devastated by the news. He said he was one of her friends and has known her three years.

"All I can say is she was a great person, a lively person," he said. "Very friendly."

Relatives at the Sheffield home, a ranch-style house on a dead-end street in Medford, said Monday they were not going to comment. A man who did not identify himself said: "All I ask is please respect the wishes of the family. We are not going to comment."

Neighbors said they'll miss the friendly man who sat on his front porch for hours and greeted them as they came and went

The checkered beach chair where he used to sit was folded and leaning on the porch's wall of the wood-shingled home where he lived with his wife.

"He was a very nice man," said neighbor Jennifer Hamarich, an 11-year resident. "He was a very humble man, always positive, always smiling... We're going to miss not seeing him here."

Standing outside the Centereach home of Ferguson, a man who would only identify himself as a relative of Ferguson's wife, Sabrina, said the information about Ferguson's death "was simply horrific."

The man said Ferguson's wife, who he said was a registered nurse at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, was "doing the best she can under the circumstances." He said she was staying with relatives in Queens.

The man said the Fergusons had been married 10 or 12 years and had no children.

Ferguson was "a wonderful guy. It's a tragedy. Simple as that," the relative said.

"You couldn't meet a better person...He had character. He was simple, humble, genuine."

Back outside the store that was the shooting scene, Lesley Mejia, who had come with her father, Rene, to see the memorial, said of her sister: "I know she's with angels. She's watching over us now."

Not far away from her, a message placed near the memorial candles read: "Jennifer Mejia. You will forever be loved & missed. Your spirit will live in one forever. I love you <3."

The owner of the pharmacy, Vinoda Kudchadkar, was released from Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center on Monday, according to his son, Raj Kudchadkar.

Vinoda Kudchadkar of Bayport had passed out after seeing the scene at his store on Sunday.

His son said he was feeling OK but was faint and light-headed. He also said he was calling surviving members of the victims, reaching out to them.

"His thoughts are with the families," Raj Kudchadkar said.

Two women who frequently shop the pharmacy described Vinoda Kudchadkar as helpful and wonderful.

Rebecca Emr and Marianne Alfieri, each of Medford, left flowers in front of the pharmacy door on Monday.

"Vinoda helps everybody," she said. "... I'm scared now."

Added Alfieri, "I didn't sleep at all last night. My heart goes out to the families."

A Medford man who came to the scene with his wife Monday to honor the victims also placed a vase of flowers in memoriam. Louis Polak, 70, a retired engineer from Medford, made the sign of the cross.

His wife, Maria, 62, wept.

He said the two of them had shopped at the store for more than 30 years, purchasing everything from blood pressure medication to Band-Aids.

"Some piece of garbage can walk in and take four lives," he said. "If this doesn't warrant the death penalty, I don't know what does. This guy's a monster. An absolute monster."

With Tania Lopez, Olivia Winslow, Bart Jones, Mikala Jamison and Víctor Manuel Ramos

Latest Long Island News