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Arrests made in Long Island pharmacy killings

/ Source: staff and news service reports

A 33-year-old man described by neighbors as polite and friendly was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder in connection with the deaths of four people who were shot at a pharmacy during a robbery for painkillers.

David Laffer, who a few years ago proposed to his then-girlfriend at a New York Islanders hockey game, was led out of his brown and yellow ranch-style home in handcuffs Wednesday as neighbors watched. He was later arrested, said Jack Eddington, chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature's public safety committee.

Laffer was charged with first-degree murder and resisting arrest, Suffolk County police said in a statement. He was arrested after an intense manhunt that had officials chasing down hundreds of tips and offering a $5,000 reward for information on the shootings at Haven Drugs in Medford, N.Y.

Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, 29, was arrested on charges of third-degree robbery and obstruction.

Both were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.

His arrest capped a massive manhunt for the suspect, who was captured on surveillance footage as a tall, gaunt, bearded man wearing glasses, a white baseball cap and a hooded sweatshirt.

The gunman was bent on stealing painkillers, officials said. The victims were shot at very close range.

About 30 to 40 officers converged on Laffer's Long Island home before he and his wife were brought out, said Peter Spano, who was working on the lawn next door.

Spano said the thin, "distraught" man resembled the man in the surveillance photos, except without a beard.

Friends and neighbors described Laffer as polite and said, if he had a drug problem, they did not see it. He lived at his family's home in Medford with his mother, Pam, and his wife.

According to their wedding announcement, Laffer and Melinda Brady Laffer met while they were out to dinner with mutual friends, and he proposed to her at an Islanders game. "To Melinda's complete surprise, he had been planning the engagement for more than a year and his proposal was shown on the large TV screens in the arena," according to the 2009 announcement.

Next-door neighbor Trish Bohlert attended the wedding and said Laffer was always friendly.

"Something must have made him snap, because his personality, I can't picture him robbing a store, much less hurt people," she said.

Zaida Ayala, a longtime neighbor, said she had spoken to Laffer's mother Tuesday about the shooting.

"She was shocked," by the violence, Ayala said. "She says 'now we can't even go walking around at night.'"

Ayala said Laffer is "a guy that I feel comfortable with, a guy that I could be out, 1 o'clock in the morning in my backyard, and he could be in his backyard and I wouldn't run inside and go get my husband."

She said she does not believe he is the shooter.

"You could give me a million dollars to pick somebody and he would be the last person I would've picked," she said.

His Facebook page showed he was interested in weapons and science fiction. He lists himself as a fan of the conspiracy-based science fiction drama "Dark Skies" and the Spike TV show "Deadliest Warrior." He also lists Springfield XD, a type of pistol, among his interests.

The wedding announcement said Laffer worked in logistics shipping and receiving, but it's not clear if he was currently employed.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy issued a statement praising police for "swiftly and safely" bringing the suspect into custody.

"The residents of Suffolk County are extraordinarily proud of the outstanding police work performed to rapidly bring into custody an individual suspected in the heinous quadruple murder that took place just three days ago," said Levy.

The shootings happened Sunday at about 10:20 a.m. inside Haven Drugs, a pharmacy in a small cluster of medical offices in Medford, about 60 miles east of New York City.

Everyone in the pharmacy at the time of the robbery was killed. The victims were identified as two employees, pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, and store clerk Jennifer Mejia, 17, of East Patchogue, and two customers, Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford, and Jamie Taccetta, a 33-year-old woman from Farmingville.

It was the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since 1974, when a man shot six relatives to death in Amityville, a crime that spawned horror films and a book after the family's home was said to be haunted.

At the pharmacy, about a mile and a half away from the Laffer home, bouquets of fresh flowers, and stuffed animals lined the shuttered storefront Wednesday. A sign read, "closed until further notice." staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.