Town residents were stunned and saddened last week at the news of the deaths of a Colonie police officer, his wife and their youngest child—apparently at the hands of the officer himself. Adding to the horror and confusion of events that no one has yet been able to explain, Officer Israel Roman left a sole survivor, his 15-year-old son, a sophomore at Shaker High School.
A fast-moving fire broke out at Roman’s residence at 35 Schalren Drive in Latham at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9, less than three hours after his youngest son, Nathan, got off the bus from Forts Ferry Elementary school, where he attended the 5th grade. Roman’s older son, Noah, was at a basketball game at his school at the time. After preliminary reports that there had been gunshots heard just before the blaze broke out, an investigation quickly turned up evidence that the fire had been deliberately set.
A week later, officials have determined that Officer Roman, for reasons that are still woefully unclear, used his police-issued firearm to shoot his wife and youngest child in the head before he spread gasoline in his home, set a blaze and then shot himself. The bodies of all three were found on a bed in the master bedroom and had to be identified using dental records.
Just as mystifying, Roman seems intentionally to have spared his eldest son. Video footage obtained from a neighboring security camera shows Roman loading Noah’s clothing and other items into the family car before pulling the car out of the driveway and pulling it onto the street. Messages exchanged with his mother throughout the day also indicate that he was concerned with ensuring that his son would have a ride home after the game. The last time Noah saw his father was around 3 p.m. that afternoon, when Roman met him at school to give him some money. The teen told investigators that nothing seemed awry at that time.
Other familiar acquaintances of Roman also indicated that nothing seemed strange when they saw him that afternoon. A long-time gun and archery enthusiast, Roman had known the owner of American Shooter Supply in Latham for two decades. He went to the store at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon and attempted to sell four firearms—after making a deal for three of them, he walked back out still in possession of a TC Icon 308.
A continuing investigation has yet to turn up any reason for the tragic events; police seem to doubt whether they will ever know what caused the young father, husband and officer to do what he did—and many are wondering how no one seems to have seen it coming. After an anonymous source called into the Times Union indicating that Deborah Roman once revealed that her relationship with her husband was controlling, that impression seems not to have been corroborated by any other credible witnesses and there has been no evidence of domestic abuse, according to investigators.
Last week’s tragedy instantly reached into many corners of the local community: one elementary school lost a “sweet,” “mischievous” classmate in Nathan Roman; another lost a “vibrant,” “phenomenal” instructor in Deborah Roman; the police department lost a co-worker and friend of more than ten years; the high school is coping with the grief and confusion of a friend and student; and the community itself is dealing with the sadness, fear and other emotional fallout inevitably engendered by such events.
From the school districts to municipal government, community members and the police department, town residents have rallied to support the surviving teen — and each other.
Support services have been put into place to help grieving students and employees, and resources have been made available to community members regarding how to discuss the incident with children of varying ages. Noah Roman is reportedly staying with family members who have indicated that their primary concern is supporting him during this time. Fundraising efforts to support the teen have been put in place by CPD, community members and family friends; more than $100,000 was raised for Noah in the first five days following the tragedy.