By CHRIS EBERHART
In the otherwise quiet Town of Eastchester, people still can recall the tragic events of March 21, 1996.
Eastchester police officers Michael Frey, 29, and Richard Morrissey, 45, responded to a call for help when Richard Sacchi, Jr. opened fired on the unsuspecting officers with a high-powered rifle from the second floor of his family’s Morgan Street home. Both officers were shot.
One bullet grazed Morrissey’s head. Another crashed through Frey’s windshield and pierced his chest. He was killed instantly.
Longtime friend and fellow Eastchester police officer Mike Denning remembered when the EMTs were loading Frey’s body into the ambulance.
“I remember opening up his shirts and seeing the blood and the wounds and then having to tell his mother,” Denning said.
Frey’s wife at the time—now Marilyn Mazzella, who has since remarried—said, “I remember everything I don’t want to remember from that day.”
Mazzella, 47, recalled her last interaction with Frey was a goodbye kiss the morning before he headed off to the police station.
“When he kissed me goodbye that morning, he grabbed me and held me tight, which was different than usual. I asked him, ‘What was that for?’ And he said, ‘Just because I love you.’”
The day unfolded like a regular day; Mazzella went to work as a school teacher.
Mazzella said she came home that night and listened to a voice message from Frey saying he was going to be late because he had to go to Connecticut to pick up new uniforms. She said, later on, she heard about a rare shooting in Eastchester from her dad, who told her to make sure Frey was OK.
When she did, she found out her husband had been shot.
In a place like Eastchester, where crime is relatively low, Mazzella said she didn’t think anything of the shooting, figuring it was some sort of practical joke, for which she said Frey was known.
“Then [Lawrence Hospital] called me, and I saw the sergeant coming out of Mike’s [hospital] room sobbing, and I immediately knew,” Mazzella said.“They let me go in and see his body, and I kissed him goodbye.”
The Town of Eastchester, like his wife and good friend, will never forget Frey.
This year, on the afternoon of March 21, police and town officials as well as Mazzella, her family and the Frey family, encircled his memorial outside Town Hall on Mill Road to remember the late officer. Later that night, members of both families, along with friends and fellow police officers, gathered in Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe for a ceremonial mass held in the fallen officer’s honor.
Frey was an altar boy at the church growing up and was also married to Mazzaella there just 17 months prior to his untimely passing.
“I’m amazed every year that so many people come,” Mazzaella said about the memorial ceremony. “But then I see who’s there, and I know those people are the ones that come every year. Those are the people—even without the mass—that are thinking of Mike weeks in advance.”
In the years following the shooting, things weren’t easy for Mazzella.
She thanked her family, the Frey family, Frey’s friends and the Eastchester police
officers—especially Lt. George Barletta—for their support.
“I remember out of nowhere I would just start sobbing. [And] my sister would ask, ‘What was it? Was there a trigger?’ But there was no trigger. It just hits you that this is real,” Mazzella said.
With the passage of time, Mazzella has managed to remember beyond the end of her time with Frey to happier times.
“He was definitely a jokester,” Mazzella said. “If he could play a prank on you, he would do it. There was a Halloween party, and he told this couple that everyone was dressing up even though no one was, so they were the only ones that showed up in costumes.”
Mazzella also recalled Frey’s love of making music.
“Mike loved to play the guitar, and he used to play while I was sitting there watching TV,” she said. “And when I finally asked him to stop, he would say, ‘I was waiting to see how long it would be until you told me to stop playing.’”
As for Denning, he and Frey went back as far as grammar school at Immaculate Conception.
“I always looked up to Mike even back in grammar school,” Denning said. “We both went to Stepinac [High School], then he worked transit while I was in the NYPD and then we worked together in Eastchester.”
Recalling their time spent together in the Hamptons on Long Island, playing golf and shark fishing, Denning said Frey was “always up for a practical joke and just having a good time.”
“We never caught any sharks, but ended up catching a bunch of tuna and I was definitely the better golf player,” he joked. “I miss the good old days and the good old times. I miss him and thank him for watching over me and my colleagues and keeping us safe.”
Frey’s memory has remained alive thanks in part to Denning’s efforts with a scholarship given to a graduating Immaculate Conception School student that will attend Stepinac High School to “retrace Mike’s footsteps,” as Denning said. There’s a night every year—April 5 this year—to raise money, Denning said.
Spectator’s Bar in New Rochelle also donates money to the Michael Frey foundation, which helps fund the scholarship.
Mazzella eventually remarried one of Frey’s old friends, Silverio Mazzella, in 1999 and now has three girls—all with Silverio—that she said know about Frey but not the circumstances surrounding his death.
“I have old news segments and newspaper clippings that I will show them one day,” she said.
She said remarrying was been a big part of getting her life back on track. Since they both knew Frey, she and Silverio swap “Mike stories” and keep his memory alive, she said.