SCHENECTADY — People in the neighborhood recalled Michael Wallace as a friendly, amicable guy.
“He was always respectful,” said George Plakas, owner of Newest Lunch on Albany Street. “We never had any problems with him.”
He was a big eater. His usual order was two hot dogs and a side of onion rings — “and he ordered twice,” Plakas said, finishing one meal, then the other.
Wallace was fatally shot by two city police officers on Tuesday morning after he pointed a pellet gun at them through his apartment door when they responded to a domestic disturbance between him and his girlfriend. Police had no way of knowing the gun did not fire bullets.
Before police arrived at Joseph L. Allen Apartments, building staff tried to quell the disturbance, and he allegedly pointed the gun at them, too.
Friends say the emerging narrative doesn’t resemble the man they knew.
William Lindley is struggling to digest the loss of his best friend.
“There’s a lot of people who loved him a lot,” Lindley said. “We never would have expected something like this.”
Recently, Wallace, a Schenectady native, was certified for a job as a construction flagger and the pair spent long days together on a Troy work site.
Wallace put in 50 hours last week, he said.
“He was one of the best people I knew,” said Lindley.
Monica Place called Wallace a "good man” who did a lot for his community.
“He even took me and my kids and fiancé in for a place to stay when we had nowhere to go,” Place said. “He was very nice. Would give you the shirt off his back if he could.”
But eventually, visits to Newest Lunch trickled off and Plakas hadn’t seen him around.
Both Place and Lindley said the mounting coronavirus pandemic put pressure on Wallace and his girlfriend, Karyn Alden, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Lindley said Michael was worried about tight finances and empty supermarket shelves ravaged by panic-shoppers.
He was acting slightly manic on Monday, said Lindley, who advised his friend to calm down.
Place also said he seemed troubled.
“When this virus hit is when he started acting really bad,” she said. “I think being cooped up in his house all the time kinda made him lose it.”
Since the first patient was diagnosed in New York on March 1, the state has ratcheted up restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.
The first wide-scale restrictions went into effect March 12 when the governor ordered restrictions on mass gatherings.
By Sunday, employees from all non-essential businesses were ordered to work from home. Large gatherings have been banned, and residents ordered not to crongegate.
Infection rates are now doubling roughly every three days as more people are tested.
Wallace’s Facebook posts, ordinarily odes to muscle cars, heavy metal and Karyn, darkened considerably even before the pandemic abruptly shut down sweeping aspects of public life.
On Feb. 24, he vented after a downstairs neighbor complained about loud music.
“My musical escape is the one solid way that I deal with the daily bullsh-t of my life and blasting my eardrums to Oblivion is how I cope with my annoyances and frustrations from living day to day life,” Wallace wrote. “It helps me put all of my anger and frustrations and emotional stresses out of my mind so I can focus on being a humble, patient and kind human being.”
Take away that coping mechanism, he said, “and you might as well have killed me internally.”
Eventually, daily observations morphed into coronavirus concerns.
“Despite the global Coronavirus pandemic, it's nice to know that my friends in the collections department are still calling to check up on me,” Wallace wrote on March 14.
On Sunday, he fretted about his elderly grandmother.
Hours later, he sent up a flare for help.
“We're practically almost out of food with no means [financially] to fix the problem,” Wallace wrote. “Please, if you have any food rations you can spare, we need them. Very, very badly.”
Wallace said on Monday morning he was “aggravated and frustrated” with Karyn and wouldn’t be speaking with her for the rest of his workday.
That was his final post.
Twenty-three hours later, officers were dispatched to his second-floor apartment.
A caller said the occupants in Apt. 202 had turned up the music so loud it could be heard from down the hall.
While four officers stood outside attempting to make contact, the door opened.
A gun emerged. Two officers fired their weapons, and the door closed.
Later, Karyn emerged.
A special operations team ultimately discovered Wallace, gravely wounded by an undisclosed number of bullets.
Despite attempts by paramedics, Wallace was pronounced dead at Ellis Hospital.
He was 34.
Police Chief Eric Clifford and Mayor Gary McCarthy believe the shooting was justified, citing body camera footage. The investigation has been turned over to state police and the state Attorney General’s Office.
Across the street, a bodega worker said he had no problems with the couple.
He recounted Karyn beaming as she showed off her engagement ring. The couple seemed happy, said Roy, who declined to give his last name.
Roy peered outside and looked up the street on Wednesday, where two city police cruisers were parked outside the apartment building.
“You never know what goes on inside,” he said.