Gerald Veneziano must be one tough cop.
The officer, on the job for three years in Fairfield, took six bullets to his abdomen and torso Saturday night, and now sources tell NBCNewYork that he's awake and alert in his hospital room at UMDNJ in Newark.
And he's talking. Or more accurately, communicating, since he has a tube running down his throat.
One of the first things he wrote on a piece of paper to investigators was that the suspects' car appeared to be a black Dodge Nitro SUV, not the Dodge Magnum that they put an alert out for on Sunday.
Sources say he also wrote down that he had been followed for several miles that night as he drove to work from his home in Belleville to his job in Fairfield. Just a couple of blocks away from the Fairfield Police Department, the driver of the Dodge Nitro started flashing his lights.
Veneziano pulled into the parking lot of a warehouse, as did the Nitro. He was able to get a cell call into a fellow officer to ask for a license plate check, but that officer was busy trying to help a woman choking at a nearby restaurant. Reports that he actually called in the license plate number were incorrect yesterday, according to the prosecutor's office. Moments, or perhaps seconds later, the shootout began.
"I opened the front door, saw the officer laying there and a car pulled up to stop and I yelled at her to dial 911," said Patrick Digiore, who lives right across the road from where Officer Veneziano was shot. Digriore had heard what he thought were firecrackers and went to investigate.
"He was moving, he was laying on the ground saying 'Help me' and he was waving his arms," Digiore added.
Veneziano's ability to communicate after taking six slugs is key to this case, because he appears to be the only witness -- other than the gunmen themselves. And with sources indicating he said he was followed for several miles, one theory getting a lot of attention from investigators is that this was a 'hit job.'
Possibly it was a gang arrest he made a couple of months back, possibly something else, they say. But until they find the suspects' vehicle they have little to go on.
That's one reason why some 50 cadets from the Essex County College Police Academy were at the shooting scene on Monday afternoon. They lined up from Fairfield Road to the wall of the warehouse, and walked its entire length, and then on up the road, training 100 eyeballs on the ground in a search for any evidence that may have been missed.
At last report, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office says the 26-year-old Veneziano was in critical but stable condition.