David Laffer senselessly and methodically executed four victims at a Medford pharmacy on Father's Day, starting with a pharmacist before turning to a teenage clerk and ambushing two customers with bullets to the head, a prosecutor said Thursday.
He even returned to the pharmacist and shot again, the prosecutor said.
Laffer, 33, charged with first-degree murder, had just a brief chat with pharmacist Raymond Ferguson before opening fire with a .45 caliber handgun, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney John Collins said. The unemployed Army veteran then shot clerk Jennifer Mejia, 17, twice, Collins said, before pumping two more rounds into Ferguson, 45.
Two customers then walked into Haven Drugs pharmacy separately, Bryon Sheffield, 71, and Jaime Taccetta, 33, the prosecutor said.
"He came up behind them," Collins said, "and executed them by shooting them in the back of the head."
Laffer then made a criminal's mistake, Collins said, when he touched a piece of paper and left a fingerprint as he was stuffing canisters of prescription painkillers into a backpack. It was later matched to prints Laffer gave when he registered for a Suffolk pistol permit, Collins said.
The chilling descriptions of how the Sunday morning rampage unfolded provoked emotional courtroom reactions from the family members of victims. Taccetta's brother, Daniel, sobbed throughout the hearing. Her uncle, Jim Fegel, shouted: "You're a coward for what you did to those families."
Through his attorney, Mary Elizabeth Abbate, Laffer pleaded not guilty.
Laffer, who was ordered held without bail Thursday, is not cooperating with detectives and has shown no remorse for the killings, Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said Thursday.
It was the deadliest mass shooting on Long Island since Colin Ferguson opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road train in 1993, killing six. Collins on Thursday called it "the most cold-blooded robbery-murder in Suffolk County history."
Dormer said detectives don't know why Laffer began shooting and killing in what seemed to begin as a pharmacy robbery. Events developed quickly, and the victims had no warning before their deaths.
"They [the victims] probably didn't even know what happened to them," Dormer said at a news conference. "I'm not going to speculate on why he executed these four people. It doesn't make sense."
Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, who is also charged, suggested Thursday morning her husband may have been trying to help her get drugs for a chronic ailment.
"He was doing it because he lost his job and because I was sick," said Brady, who is being guarded at a St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. Laffer lost his job at an measuring instrument distributor two weeks ago and applied for food stamps on Friday night.
Brady, 29, is charged with third-degree robbery and is cooperating with police, Dormer said. A law enforcement source said Brady drove Laffer to and from the pharmacy and had given detectives valuable information about Sunday's crime.
Laffer has mostly ignored shouted questions from reporters on the killings, except for one about his wife saying he was responsible for the killings.
"What did she say?" the handcuffed Laffer, accompanied by two police officers, said as he was placed into the back of a marked patrol officer.
Abbate said the information developed by police does not necessarily implicate Laffer. The fingerprint at the crime scene could have been left there by Laffer on a previous visit, she said.
"There's been a rush to say he did it, but I haven't seen any evidence that it was him," she said.
Law enforcement sources have described Brady and Laffer as drug abusers. Laffer and Brady have both told reporters they are not addicts.
Laffer was also charged with "violently" resisting arrest during Wednesday's raid of his house, Dormer said. "The officers had to use force to take him into custody," Dormer said.
Brady also is charged with obstructing government administration for "physically interfering" with officers during the search of her house, Dormer said.
Dormer said more charges may be filed later.
Law enforcement sources said Wednesday Laffer wore a fake beard, a hat and sunglasses to conceal his identity during the robbery. Detectives believe Laffer used his own legally registered .45 caliber handgun in the pharmacy shootings, a law enforcement source said. He took no cash.
The groundwork for identifying the shooter began within hours of the massacre, police said. Suspecting he was an addict familiar with the store, detectives cross-referenced hundreds of painkiller prescription records, tips and registrations for .45 caliber handguns.
By Monday evening, they had a short list of suspects. Detectives then began approaching their associates, looking for information on drugs or recent activities.
"It was basic police legwork the detectives worked on 24-hours a day and they'll continue to do that until the case is concluded," Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the Suffolk police homicide squad said Thursday.
Dormer said police cracked the case through tips from the public, help from other law enforcement agencies and unspecified information developed by a 5th Precinct sergeant. Detectives linked Laffer to the pharmacy by poring over a huge book of Haven Drug's clients, Dormer said, and then arrested him in a daring raid on his Medford home Wednesday.
A law enforcement source said 10,000 pills of hydrocodone, used in the pain killer Vicodin, were stolen.
Collins told the court that with a search warrant, police recovered a .45-caliber pistol that had been "disassembled," noting the gun was "consistent with the shots fired" inside the drugstore.
Daniel Taccetta said Thursday morning he was at the Fifth Precinct to show the suspect he would be following the case, to make sure there is justice for his sister.
"I'm here to just show this coward ... that I'm going to be there every step of the way," Taccetta said. "You destroyed my family's life. You took away my best friend."
Taccetta said he did not accept the apology of Laffer's wife to the victims and their families. He said his wish was that the two, Laffer and his wife, spend the rest of their lives in prison.
"There is no words to say you're sorry. You took my sister's life. You're going to get it ... I'm going to be there every step of the way to see you get it.
"I want to see them go to jail for the rest of their lives."
In the days after the rampage, Laffer and Brady resumed their suburban routine at their home a five-minute drive form the pharmacy, a law enforcement source said -- waving at neighbors and working around the yard in the days until police broke down their door.
The ruthless shootings, captured on video surveillance, set off an intense search.
A three-day investigation fueled by phoned-in tips and a fingerprint found at the pharmacy culminated Wednesday in a carefully orchestrated police raid on the Laffers' Medford home.
Dormer Thursday praised the work of the forensic unit and the public who reported Laffer. He said police were reviewing the tips to see if a Crime Stoppers reward should be given out.
Laffer's arrest bewildered many of his friends and neighbors. The 1995 Patchogue-Medford High School graduate joined the Army before his 18th birthday and served for eight years, attaining the rank of private first class.
Until two weeks ago, he had a job at a commercial-grade measuring instrument distributor in Yaphank, COSA Xentaur Instrument Corp. A law enforcement source said he was fired after being accused of trying to steal another employee's property.
Neighbor Mike Pagliuca said Laffer's only apparent vice was cigarette smoking. "They were not shady people at all," Pagliuca said. "David was fine. I don't [know] what drove him to this. I hope it's not him."
In addition to tips to the Suffolk police Crime Stoppers hotline, leads were developed by the Suffolk district attorney's office, a source said. The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York City also learned of Laffer's name as part of an ongoing investigation into prescription drug abuse, a source said, and passed the name to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Suffolk.
In the last week, Brady, who two years ago had complained on a website about severe dental pain, "was trying to find out if anyone knew what hospital she can go to to get a script for pain pills," said a childhood friend who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Because of Laffer's firing, the couple had lost their health insurance, the friend said.
By Tuesday, police had the Laffer house under surveillance.
Viedya Sabrina Quail-Ferguson, Ferguson's wife, got the news of the arrest before her husband's wake Wednesday in Farmingdale.
"I feel like I can come here stronger, not with this cloud over my head," she said.
Earlier, Daniel Taccetta had showed up at police headquarters in Yaphank to see Laffer. "I just hope it's him."
With Bill Mason, Andrew Strickler, Tania Lopez, Gary Dymski, Will Van Sant, Ali Eaves, Sophia Chang, Matthew Chayes, Mikala Jamison, Bart Jones, Víctor Manuel Ramos, Patrick Whittle, Olivia Winslow, Jennifer Smith and John Valenti