A younger sister can often be very good when it comes to knowing things about her brothers. The only girl among five boys in her family, Janice Currie knew her younger brother Ricky J. Parisian very well, and what he would have been thinking about the popular local charitable activities that bear his name, 20 years after a tragic shooting that took his life in Oneonta.
“He’d go crazy. He never wanted to be in the spotlight. He just wanted to do his thing and not be highlighted for it,” Janice said of her late brother. “But I think it’s a wonderful honor.”
All the good that has come from the Ricky J. Parisian Memorial Scholarship Foundation came on the heels of tragedy that took place 20 years ago Monday.
On Friday evening, May 20, Parisian and his wife, Debra, were shopping at the Great American Supermarket, then at Oneonta’s Southside Mall. Unarmed and off-duty, Parisian attempted to foil an armed robbery in the store. Parisian ushered his wife and more than a dozen customers out a back door before approaching the robber, Colin M. Hyde of Morris.
Parisian exchanged words with Hyde, although he didn’t identify himself as a police officer. Parisian then tackled the gunman, and they hurtled through a plate-glass window at the front of the store. Hyde stood above Parisian and fired point-blank into his chest. Parisian was still able to grapple with Hyde, before he dropped the weapon and fled. He was last seen running east in the direction of Route 23. Hyde had worked at the Great American briefly in 1993.
Within 10 minutes several area roadblocks were set up, but Hyde managed to evade them and get to Albany to take a flight to Colorado. By Sunday, police in Denver were able to identify and arrest Hyde in a coffee shop of the hotel in which he was staying.
Currie was working that evening at the Oneonta Holiday Inn Restaurant, and got the call from the family to come to the emergency room at A.O. Fox Hospital.
“That day feels like 100 years ago, but to this day I can remember everything I did from the time I woke up until I went to bed,” Currie recalled.
It was a busy weekend in Oneonta as there were graduation ceremonies at the State University College at Oneonta. The roadblocks were in place most of the weekend, and the ceremonies were delayed about a half hour as students and visiting relatives had to get through the roadblocks.
Near the end of the ceremony, college President Alan B. Donovan asked for a moment of silence in Parisian’s honor.
The manhunt for Hyde was described as one of the largest in New York history. It was joined by city police, sheriff’s deputies from two counties, town constables and a wide support staff of civilians. Men and women from six of the state’s 10 troops, from as far away as Middletown and Bath, were stationed at checkpoints early Saturday morning. A Boy Scout council building adjacent to the state police barracks then found on Southside Oneonta, became the nerve center of the search.
With so many in town for SUNY-Oneonta’s graduation, housing was a minor problem. Troop C commander Maj. Joseph Loszynski said some troopers stayed at the Homer Folks shelter near the Job Corps and some in the Morris Conference Complex at SUNY-Oneonta.
The local chapter of the Red Cross and local merchants helped supply the troopers with food and shelter. College employees and student managers worked all day Saturday to prepare the troopers’ quarters. At Hartwick College, the kitchen staff voluntarily prepared dozens of meat and pasta meals for the troopers.
Loszynski said a trail of physical clues and interviews with hundreds of people led them from Oneonta to Albany to the coffee shop in Denver, where Hyde was arrested without incident. He was brought back to New York, and pleaded innocent in Otsego County Court that June. A State Supreme Court justice sentenced Hyde to 37½ years-to-life in prison in August 1995. Hyde died while in prison in 2004.
The death penalty issue was on the minds of some Oneontans only days after the shooting. Robert Patterson was a longtime friend of Parisian, and set up a table on Main Street with a petition for people to sign “In Loving Memory of Rick Parisian.” During the lunch hour and through the day, Patterson gathered more than 700 signatures in favor of a death penalty for “cop killers.”
Then-Mayor David Brenner issued an executive order that city offices close from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. as a period of mourning on Wednesday, May 25, and that all city flags be flown at half-mast from May 23 to May 27.
While the community was in shock over the death of Ricky Parisian, several thousand people, state troopers and Gov. Mario Cuomo gathered at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, May 25, 1994. Some came from as far away as Michigan and Florida. Following the mass, police officers, family and dignitaries traveled in a procession to Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Emmons.
Loszynski said Debra Parisian and family “are bearing up strongly after the tragedy, with regular group sessions with state police leaders.”
Part of a letter from the Parisian family released by state police read, “We will miss him and grieve our loss. We know also that he would not permit us to be defeated by this senseless act of violence, and we will not be!”
The Parisian family, friends and community saw to it that there would be no defeat. A little more than a month after the tragedy, the tributes to Ricky J. Parisian kept coming in.
“A benefit concert and picnic Sunday,” June 26, “at the Oneonta Holiday Inn was expected to raise more than $5,000 for a charitable fund in the late trooper’s name,” The Daily Star reported. “It also drew hundreds of well-wishers to cheer the Parisian family.” One of Parisian’s friends, Ronald Losie, set up a donation fund to add to a police benevolent reward of more than $18,000 for the killer.
Once Hyde was arrested, the bulk of the money was set up as a college scholarship fund. That was only the beginning. The idea for the Pit Run came from local New York state police officers, spearheaded by then-Capt. Kevin Molinari. The Parisian family and Tim Catella also played a major role in organizing the race, now set for its 21st running this October.
The inaugural Pit Run took place on Sunday, Oct. 2, 1994. It began as a 10K race and attracted more than 800 people. Attendance has increased and has remained large ever since. The name “Pit” was a nickname for Ricky Parisian, as his parents and siblings said he had a hearty appetite as he grew up.
Janice Currie said her younger brother liked to bike and run, and the event was organized so many other runners could participate and raise funds for scholarships.
“We’re still in awe of it,” Currie said of the Pit Run. “Taking a tragedy and turning it into something that’s good, and lasting this long, is amazing. We hope we can keep it going.”
The Ricky J. Parisian Memorial Scholarship Foundation has given back $367,900 to the community for both scholarships and youth programs. The annual Pit Run in October and Law Enforcement Benefit Motorcycle Ride in August are the two major fundraisers.