From Iraq to Colombia, Manhattan to Long Island, ATF Special Agent John Capano spent his life protecting others -- and now his own life is in the spotlight as he's set to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest national award for public safety officers.
The 51-year-old Capano was picking up medication for his cancer-stricken father from a pharmacy in Seaford on Long Island three years ago when the store was held up at gunpoint. The husband and father intervened to stop the robber and was killed in a friendly-fire shootout when two other law enforcement officers -- an off-duty NYPD officer and a retired Nassau police lieutenant -- also jumped in with their weapons.
A highly respected certified explosives specialist, Capano is being honored with the medal for his heroism. His family will receive the award from the Vice President in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.
"He really went above and beyond the call of duty on December 31, 2011, and it's the right thing," said ATF Special Agent Charles Mulham, a colleague and friend of Capano.
"He was always a hard-working agent, always looking to better himself," he said.
Capano's presence is still felt at the ATF office in lower Manhattan.
"When one of our own meets this kind of tragic fate, it's devastating to this community," said Mulham.
"It's never going to give us back John, but we're really happy he's going to be recognized the right way," he said.
A spokesman for the ATF said previously that although Capano was not scheduled to be working that day — he was on bereavement leave because his mother had died in mid-December — his death is still considered to have happened in the line of duty.
Spokesman Steven Bartholomew has said that when Capano took action to stop the robbery in progress, he was acting as an ATF agent.
The two men were in a deli in Seaford when someone said a robbery was in progress up the street, authorities said. When they arrived at the pharmacy, they saw Capano and the robbery suspect wrestling for a gun that later turned out to be Capano's.
The retired lieutenant, Christopher Geraghty, opened fire, killing Capano, after a bullet from Capano's weapon whizzed past his head. NYPD officer Joseph Arbia then killed the robbery suspect, James McGoey.
Rice's report noted that Geraghty repeatedly yelled at Capano and McGoey to drop the gun and joined the skirmish on the sidewalk. Geraghty also continued to yell, "Police," and repeatedly shouted for someone to tell him "who's the good guy," ''who's the bad guy," according to the Nassau District Attorney's report.
"He clearly did not enter this situation with the intent to use deadly physical force," the report noted. "And he resorted to it only when he perceived that his own life was in danger."
The report noted Geraghty "found himself looking down the barrel of a gun that he perceived to have been pointed at him by John Capano. Geraghty then believed that Capano was attempting to kill him. That belief may have been mistaken, but it was not objectively unreasonable."
Geraghty put his own gun to Capano's rib cage and fired.
Meanwhile, McGoey refused to show his hands after Arbia ordered him to do so, the report said. Arbia fired three shots at McGoey, killing him.
Geraghty's attorney, Brian Davis, has said the fatal friendly fire shooting will be with Geraghty "for the rest of his life" and that he was "devastated."
Capano was an explosives expert who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an ATF senior special agent, Capano traveled the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Peru to Paraguay, sharing his expertise investigating the aftermath of bombings.
He was the first ATF agent to be killed by gunfire in the line of duty since the infamous raid on a religious cult compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Capano grew up in Seaford and lived in nearby Massapequa.