Friends, strangers stride to honor trooper
SARATOGA SPRINGS Seven years have gone by since state Trooper Joseph Longobardo was killed by escaped prisoner Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, who broke out of a Buffalo-area jail.
The swift passage of time was on many minds at Sunday’s memorial walk/run in Longobardo’s honor. There were tears and wistful recollections, but also plenty of smiles — a good number of them brought on by a ray of light named Louis Longobardo, the trooper’s 8-year-old son.
A gold sticker that looked like a sheriff’s badge stuck to his gray sleeveless shirt, Louis bopped around the pavilion where participants gathered before the race, greeting friends and peppering his mom, Teri Longobardo, with questions.
He was only 13 months old when his father died in the line of duty.
“I pretty much got up every day after Joe passed away because I knew I had to take care of him, so he was my strength and he still is,” Teri Longobardo said.
When she studies her son, now tall, tan, and brimming with energy, she gets glimpses of the husband she lost — his kindness and his loving nature.
“He definitely looks like him and lives on in his memory, that’s for sure,” she said.
Hundreds walk, run
Several hundred people gathered in Saratoga Spa State Park under cloudy skies Sunday to honor that memory by taking part in the memorial walk/run. Participants included friends, family and many who never knew Longobardo.
Don Baker of Clifton Park was there. A fellow state trooper, he was seriously injured during the manhunt for Phillips back in 2006. Eleven surgeries later, he appears to be in excellent health, but memories of that fateful day have left open wounds.
“It’s always tough this time of year, August 31, the day of the shooting is always,” he said, his voice trailing off.
He recalled the friend he lost: “He was a good father, a good trooper, just an all-around really good guy.”
a ‘fierce defender’
Those words were echoed by Matt Wheeler of Scotia, who spoke to the walkers and runners before they took off for their 5-kilometer trek around the park.
“We remember Joe’s dedication, humble nature and his work ethic,” he said, “We remember a loyal friend, fierce defender of what was right and a devoted husband, father and son. Knowing him made you a better person.”
Words didn’t come easily to Gary Brown of Princetown, who served in the New York Air National Guard with Longobardo and was at the park to participate in the 5K.
“He was one of my best friends; it still hurts,” he said with tears in his eyes.
But then little Louis showed up next to him and it was like the sun came out. “Hey buddy, what’s going on?” Brown asked him with a grin. “How are ya? How’s school? Did you pass everything?”
Proceeds from the memorial walk/run will help further the education of criminal-justice students who graduate from Longobardo’s alma mater, Amsterdam High School.