QUINCY — A 41-year-old man whose family said he was suffering from a mental illness had been driving to Boston to see his father when he found himself in a fatal confrontation with a state trooper.
After Wilfredo Justiniano Jr. left the family’s home in New Bedford and drove north on Route 28 early Friday morning through Quincy, several motorists saw his black Dodge Stratus weaving dangerously back and forth, police said.
When the trooper, a 25-year veteran, arrived on scene, a violent struggle ensued, and the trooper shot Justiniano in the chest, killing him, police said.
Now police say they are trying to piece together what happened as Justiniano’s family mourns a man they said was troubled, but had never been aggressive.
“I’m looking for answers,” Damaris Justiniano, his younger sister said in a telephone interview. “The way he went down is unbelievable.”
Her brother, who was 41 was the oldest of three siblings. His sister declined to be specific about the nature of his mental illness.
“He was a quiet person,” she said. “He didn’t do any harm to anybody. He was always to himself.”
State Police and the Norfolk district attorney’s office released few details about what happened at the scene just north of the Interstate 93 interchange in Quincy, saying they were still interviewing several eyewitnesses to the confrontation as well as the trooper, who has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard protocol following a police shooting.
“We hope the witnesses will help us piece this all together,” said Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.
It was the second time this week that a trooper was involved in a shooting.
On Wednesday night, State Police and Boston police fired on a 53-year-old man allegedly wielding a pellet gun during a confrontation near the intersection of East Eighth and Old Harbor streets.
Early investigations suggest that officers ordered the man, Kenneth Connolly of South Boston, to drop the weapon, but Connolly instead raised it and pointed it at them, said Suffolk District Daniel F. Conley’s office.
Connolly pleaded not guilty during his arraignment from his hospital bed Friday at Boston Medical Center, where he is recovering. He was ordered held on $750 cash bail and placed on a GPS monitor.
Friday’s shooting was sparked by a 911 call from a motorist at 7:56 a.m., said State Police Colonel Timothy Alben. The call initiially came in as a medical emergency, Alben said. The State Police barracks in Milton responded.
The call was for a person suffering an anxiety attack, said Milton Fire Lieutenant Paul McNulty. But, he said, “when we got up there, that was not the case.”
The confrontation between Justiniano and a trooper, who has not been identified, happened outside their vehicles, said State Police spokesman David Procopio.
Investigators are still trying to determine if the trooper pulled Justiniano over or if the Dodge had already stopped on the side of Route 28, a stretch of road that cuts through the Blue Hills Reservation.
That part of the road is lined with woods and has no houses, but at that time of day, the route is busy with commuters.
Several commuters witnessed Justiniano’s driving and the confrontation between him and the trooper, Procopio said.
“Did [Justiniano] charge, or did he come out peacefully and snap? That’s still part of the investigation,” Procopio said. “There is evidence of a physical assault on the trooper.”
Justiniano was taken to Milton Hospital, where he was pronounced dead just before 9 a.m., Alben said.
Investigators did not find any weapons in the immediate area around the cars, Procopio said. Officials plan to interview the trooper about any possible weapon and are still searching the Dodge Stratus, he said.
“They’re not going to find anything” said his sister, Damaris Justiniano. “He was a Christian guy. He never believed in weapons.”
Justiniano’s criminal record was minor, according to court records that showed only a disorderly conduct charge out of New Bedford that was dismissed in 2003.
The high school graduate who had taken a few college courses moved with his family from Dorchester to New Bedford about 20 years ago, his sister said.
She said that she last saw her brother Tuesday or Wednesday and that he seemed fine. He was intent on seeing his father and had left early Friday morning to go visit him, she said. She said she did not know why he wanted to see his father.
Her brother, whose illness had kept him from working recently, had been despondent, she said, but he never behaved in a way that alarmed the family.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” she said. “I never saw him acting that way towards the police or anybody else. . . . It must be a misunderstanding. It’s unfortunate what the state trooper had to do.”