It took five days of near-round-the-clock underwater searches that included scouring some 67,000 square feet of murky river bottom, but the elite investigators from the NYPD’s scuba team ultimately emerged with the pistol they were tasked to recover.
NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill assembled the team on Monday to laud their extraordinary, meticulous and painstaking efforts.
“Processing a crime scene is not quite the way it is displayed in TV episodes. The conditions under which they work are not always the best, but I can confidently say that our investigators are the best,” O’Neill said.
The .40-caliber weapon was fished out of the Harlem River at 3 a.m. on Sunday by Detective John Mortimer, a scuba unit veteran.
Using only estimates of where police believed the alleged gunman — 30-year-old career criminal Tyrone Howard — tossed the pistol used to kill Police Officer Randolph Holder, scuba divers managed to find the gun and a 30-round magazine.
The gun was originally sold in 2008 at Lawmen’s Safety Supply in Columbia, S.C., police said.
Federal authorities have not yet found the man who bought it in South Carolina, so it is not yet clear if he resold it, lost it or it was stolen. Police fired a bullet from the gun into a tub of water and are trying to see if the ballistic evidence matches evidence from other crimes. So far, there have been no matches.
The shop's owner could not immediately be reached.
Between 2007 and 2013 more guns — 1,550 — from South Carolina were recovered at New York City crime scenes than from any other state, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms data show.
Lawmen’s Safety, however, appears to have the law enforcement stamp of approval — various police agencies in South Carolina have bought vests, long guns, Tasers and gunlocks there.
Holder, 33, a third-generation cop, was killed by a bullet to the head last Tuesday night while chasing Howard along an FDR Drive footpath near 120th St. in East Harlem, officials said.
“Last Tuesday night, we found ourselves with a crime scene that spanned over a mile along a major highway,” O’Neill said. “We soon discovered that a critical part of that crime scene was located at the bottom of the Harlem River — a dark, murky body of water with extremely strong currents.”
Cops generally schedule their dives during slack tide, which can last as little as 15 minutes or as long as two hours. During this recovery effort, however, police said teams were in the water nearly 24 hours a day.
“Within an hour of the shooting of Officer Holder, members of the NYPD harbor and scuba units responded to the scene and began a methodical search,” O’Neill said.
Detective Brian Singer said the divers first descended into the river down a line tied to a buoy marking their position to start their grid search.
Once they reached the river floor, the divers crawled around on their bellies — with only about 24 inches of visibility to work with.
“They’re conducting a search by using their elbow to their hand and physically search every inch of the bottom,” Singer said.
Mortimer, who found the gun, recounted his discovery.
“I was down in maybe a foot of visibility on our pattern line . . . pretty much on my stomach, feeling a small distance in front of my face and going down the line back and forth,” he said.
“We move the hook, come back, and there was the black firearm the detectives asked us to find.”
Mortimer immediately called out to his partner at the other end of the line. “I notified him, ‘Hey, I got it here,’ ” he said. “I was elated.”
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