A FUNERAL REPLACES SENIOR'S CELEBRATION

Many from the UAlbany community mourn at slain student Richard Bailey's downstate funeral

MARC PARRY STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

LEVITTOWN -- They should have celebrated as Richard Bailey marched up to get his diploma.


Instead, the University at Albany senior's friends and fraternity brothers hung their heads as they accompanied his casket down the isle of the Long Island church where he was confirmed.


The Monday morning funeral Mass at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Levittown came exactly one week after the 22-year-old's dreams of becoming a cop ended at the hands of an unknown gunman on an Albany street.


It was moving as much for the faces in the pews as the words spoken from the pulpit.


Many of the roughly 400 mourners were college-age kids. The men seemed too young for their dark suits. A girl with large sunglasses locked arms with her friend and cried on her shoulder. Another girl stroked the back of the boy beside her.


Dave Walters, a recent Iona College graduate who used to live around the block from Bailey, spoke for many of them when he described the feeling as "unreal."


"I'm just waiting for him to get up and be his normal self, a happy-go-lucky guy," said Walters, 22. "You figure grandparents - you'd be going to their funeral. But not somebody you grew up with. He had so much more to offer to the world."


Bailey, a sociology major from Wantagh, was shot in the head on South Lake Avenue as he walked home from watching a football game. Two hooded figures were seen pedaling bicycles away from the scene. Police have made no arrests.


Friends and family mourned Bailey in a modern church with abstract-shaped stained-glass windows on a busy, strip-mall-filled street in this Nassau County suburb.


Several uniformed New York City police officers joined them in the semi-circle-shaped sanctuary. It was a visual reminder that Bailey, the son of a retired New York cop, died just hours after taking an exam to join their ranks.


The young mourners began to sniffle the moment Father Jerry Ringenback said Bailey's age, "22." They continued as Bailey's friends spread an embroidered white pall over the casket. Close friend Steve Mazziotti, one of the last to see Bailey alive last Monday, shook as he read from the "Book of Wisdom." He struggled past phrases like "snatched away."


The funeral had no speeches or stories from friends or relatives. It was a simple, solemn religious rite with a single moment of levity. That came when Ringenback recalled how Bailey, proud of his Irish heritage, wanted to get a shamrock tattoo. Then his mom heard of the idea, the priest said, and "that was the end of that."


The priest said Bailey might have been embarrassed by all the accolades he received - the UAlbany university vigil, the newspaper articles filled with praise - as his story reverberated across the state.


Then he added some more: a trustworthy friend, varsity athlete, serious student. He spoke directly to the young people in the pews, inviting them to consider how to lead their own lives in light of the loss of their friend's.


"We are painfully aware that Rick's death was neither natural or accidental," Ringenback said. "It was evil."


Afterward, once the sound of Amazing Grace faded away, the setting for much of Bailey's brief life was on display outside the window as the funeral cortege headed to St. Charles Roman Catholic cemetery in Farmingdale.


Cars passed the closely nestled, single-family homes of a hamlet that gained fame after World War II when returning soldiers flocked to America's first planned suburban community. They looked out at MacArthur High School, where Bailey played football and baseball for the Generals.


There was a moment of silence in Bailey's honor when the Generals played Massapequa Friday night. It's a "typical suburban high school," in the words of its principal, a University at Albany alum named John Bifolco.


Crack open the yearbook in Bifolco's office and you'll find a picture of the tall, always-smiling Bailey - Number #88 - thrusting his red helmet in the air as the Generals commemorate their last home game.


That number was one of the first things mourners saw as they gathered around Bailey's freshly dug grave to say goodbye.


It was pinned to a display of red flowers shaped like a football that sat beside Bailey's casket. A giant baseball built from white flowers bore the number he wore when playing that sport, 24.


One by one, dozens of his friends laid roses on the coffin, which occupied a plot near a statue of Pope John Paul II. The only sound as they filed past was the throttle of a small plane overhead.


When it came Mazziotti's turn to lay down his flower, he hugged every member of Bailey's family, hard.


Marc Parry can be reached at 454-5057 or by e-mail at mparry@timesunion.com





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UAlbany shooting victim mourned at LI funeral


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LEVITTOWN -- In a quiet Long Island church, hundreds of people mourned for Richard Bailey, the 22-year-old college student whose dreams of being a cop were ended by a gunman on an Albany street.


About 400 people, many of them college-age, packed St. Bernard's Church here to pay final respects to the University at Albany senior and one-time football player who hoped to become a New York police officer like his father.


"We are painfully aware that Rick's death was neither natural nor accidental. It was evil," Rev. Jerry Ringenback told mourners.


Bailey, a sociology major from Wantagh, Long Island, was shot Oct. 20 on South Lake Avenue and died the next day. Two hooded figures were seen pedaling bicycles away from the scene. No arrests have been made in the case.


Ringenback was the only person who spoke at the solemn ceremony. He told mourners that Bailey was proud of his name and his Irish heritage. The sole moment of levity came when Ringenback explained how Bailey wanted to get a tattoo in the shape of a shamrock, but his mother put the brakes on the plan.


Bailey was later buried at a cemetery in Farmingdale. At the grave site were flowers arranged in the shape of a football with his uniform number, 88, and another in the shape of a baseball with his number, 24, from that sport.


The mourners included University at Albany President George Philip as well as groups of students.


On the day of he died, Bailey took the exam for the New York Police Department and hoped to follow in his father's footsteps. In the hours before his death, he watched Monday Night Football at an Albany tavern and visited a friend's apartment.


A motive for his killing remains elusive, police said. Police are working an investigation based on sketchy information provided by two witnesses: Two young men pedaled away quickly on BMX bikes, apparently without robbing Bailey as he lay fatally wounded on the sidewalk near the corner of South Lake Avenue and Yates Street at about 11:20 p.m.


Police say they had not located the youths on the bikes. They do not have any solid leads, motives or suspects, but are leaning toward Bailey's murder as a case of random violence or perhaps a botched robbery in which the two youths were scared off by a passing motorist. But, investigators caution, all such scenarios are highly speculative thus far.