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Albany teacher, 31, fatally shot in Amherst

Amherst Police are investigating the death of an Albany school teacher who was fatally shot by a homeowner who claimed the teacher had broken into his home.

David W. Park, 31, who taught at an Albany elementary school and was a Little League baseball coach, was shot inside a Millbrook Court residence shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday and was later pronounced dead in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

Police said Park had been visiting friends in Amherst. His sister told The Buffalo News that Park was attending a "diaper party" for a close friend whose wife is expecting a baby soon.

According to law enforcement officials, detectives are investigating reports that Park had attended the party at another home on Millbrook Court, had left the party for awhile, and then entered the wrong home.

As of late Sunday night, no charges had been filed against the homeowner, whom police declined to identify.

"I don't [know] why he ended up in the house," Amherst Assistant Police Chief Timothy M. Green said of Park. "Right now, it's a mystery to us."

The shooter's attorney, Thomas H. Burton, said his client is badly shaken by the incident, but emphasized that, in his view, the man broke no laws.

"Any way you look at this, it's a tragedy," Burton said, "but it isn't one that involved any illegal activity by the owner of the home. He and his wife are good citizens . . . This is not something they wanted or expected."

Burton said the homeowner and his wife were "sound asleep" when they heard someone entering their home. He said they did not know Park.

The man's wife called 911 while the man pulled out a hunting shotgun he keeps in his home, the attorney said.

"The homeowner repeatedly warned the individual who had come into the house that he was armed and he should leave," Burton said. "The authorities are checking the 911 tapes to verify those pre-shooting warnings . . . When somebody comes crashing into your home at one in the morning, you don't have time for detached observation."

Burton said his client and his wife -- on his advice -- spoke to police about the incident and allowed them to search their home without a warrant.

"I would not allow that if I thought there was anything illegal associated with this shooting," the attorney said.

Burton also declined to identify his client, but said he was a local construction executive with no criminal record, and his wife is a school teacher.

Police released few details of the shooting, which took place in a normally quiet neighborhood in the Sweet Home School District, where homes frequently sell in the range of $150,000 to $200,000.

Green said police found Park, who was suffering from a gunshot wound, when they responded to a phone call of an intruder inside the home.

"We're talking to people in the neighborhood and people who were around," Green told reporters, "but what they're telling us, we're not going to make public right now."

Green said police have spoken to District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III about the case and stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

Park's sister, Stephanie Garcia Galagarza of Albany, said her brother was a loving, non-violent man who loved to work with children.

"I was not there. I don't know what happened," Garcia Galagarza said. "I know he is not a burglar."

She said she does know that her brother and his wife went to Amherst to celebrate with some friends who are expecting a baby soon. According to Garcia Galagarza, the women were at a baby shower Saturday night and the men got together for a "diaper party" at a home near the shooting location.

"They were there to celebrate a life, a new baby," Garcia Galagarza said. "My brother was a mentor, a teacher, you name it."

Garcia Galagarza said she has heard from others that her brother went to a party, then left the party to go outside for a while, and then went into the wrong house.

"I can't say I am angry at the man who shot David, or that I hate him," Park's sister said. "I understand that a person would be scared if someone came into their home, but I don't think shooting somebody solves anything. Why couldn't this person just fire a warning shot?"

The neighborhood is near Maple Road and Millersport Highway, just east of the University at Buffalo's North Campus. Millbrook Court, which runs off Millbrook Drive, has six houses in it, close together.

Neighbors told The News they were shocked by the incident and are wondering what actually happened.

"Amherst is ranked as one of the safest places in the country. We don't have things liked that happen here," said one man who lives nearby. "This is a neighborhood where people don't bother each other, but if you need help, they are there for you."

Whether Park thought he was entering a party house or entered the house for some other reason is "not relevant" under state law, according to Burton, who is an expert on self-defense shootings.

"What is important under the law is what was in the mind of the homeowner who is defending his property," Burton said. "This was a tragedy. The events that started it did not begin with the homeowner."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com and dherbeck@buffnews.com

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