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Monday, 20 June 2011

Druggist Vinoda Kudchadkar collapses after arriving at his store to find four people slain by this savage killer, who was caught on surveillance

coldblooded robber fatally gunned down two terrified customers and two employees at a Long Island mom-and-pop drugstore yesterday in a chilling morning bloodbath.

The gaunt, glowering gunman stole prescription drugs from the pharmacy and then fled on foot toting a backpack, surveillance video shows.

He was still at large early this morning.

"This is a vicious, horrible crime," said Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone. "Right now, our primary interest is apprehending the individual . . . involved."

Mercilessly gunned down in the shocking siege were Haven Pharmacy druggist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach; cashier Jennifer Mejia, 17, of East Patchogue, and customers Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford, and Jamie Taccetta, 33, of Farmingville.

Mejia's slaying devastated her relatives, who described her as devoted to her family, friends and church.

The perky teen was excited about her upcoming prom, on Wednesday, and her high-school graduation, on Thursday, grieving relatives said.

Her sister Leslie also had been scheduled to work at the pharmacy, but opted not to work on Father's Day, her family said.

"[Jennifer] was not only beautiful physically but also in her heart," said the slain girl's shattered dad, Rene. "She was a nice, quiet family girl who went to church and worked hard in school . . . It's very hard for us."

A neighbor of Ferguson described the pharmacist as "really pleasant," saying he'd gotten married about five years ago to a nurse who works in Queens, and moved to Centereach at that time.

"It's such a shame," said Rich Adell, 66. "He was a nice guy."

The tragedy unfolded at the Medford pharmacy at around 10:20 a.m., when the killer -- wearing a baseball cap, his skeletal features covered by scrubby facial hair, and his eyes hidden behind shades -- walked into the store with a handgun, apparently intent on stealing drugs, authorities said.

A police source said investigators are theorizing the assailant was an addict seeking narcotics like OxyContin.

What started out as a routine stickup suddenly turned deadly as the intruder trained his handgun on everyone in the store. He shot at least one of his victims in the head, officials said.

Mejia's friends and family set up a memorial Facebook page and flooded the site with words of condolence and sorrow.

More than 1,300 people had signed into the page by last night.

"Being at her house tonight with her family, broke my heart," wrote Claudia Barreiro. "We lost such a wonderful girl, but we gained a beautiful angel."

Another friend, Kristen Velasquez, wrote of the teen, "One of the most genuine girls I know."

"I would always come into Haven and have a chat with you," wrote another, Carly Cook. "You were so nice and so beautiful. You didn't deserve this."

A family friend, Efrain Villefane, praised the Mejias as a loving, "excellent" family, adding that the teen had three siblings.

"The kids don't go anywhere without the parents. They were brought up to never drink and to never smoke," he said.

Another relative said Mejia's mom, a native of El Salvador, was inconsolable.

"Her mother is crying her eyes out -- she's devastated," the relative said.

Suffolk cops were alerted to the chaos after receiving a 911 call from Taccetta's boyfriend, James Manzella. He said she entered the store and didn't come out as he waited for her in a car in the parking lot.

Manzella then went in to check on her and discovered the carnage.

Police launched a massive manhunt for the killer and had K-9 units canvassing nearby blocks.

"We are dedicating a great number of resources," Chief Varrone said. "Certainly, a crime of this magnitude, where four people are shot, is very unusual."

The pharmacy's owner, Vinoda Kudchadkar, showed up to his store with his wife after the murders and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital.

"He came here and fainted from the shock," said a friend, John Ramirez, who added that Kudchadkar has owned the pharmacy for many years. "They're his employees and his patients."

The pharmacy is located in a medical park roughly one block from the Tremont Elementary School.


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