‘Son of Sam’ killer’s first victim recalls a smiling man, and then gunfire

The approaching young man’s face was friendly and smiling on the April day in 1976, as Wendy Savino sat in her car in New York City.

“Quite nice looking, walking towards me, smiling,” Savino recalled. She locked her doors to stay safe, noticing his blue eyes.

Savino thought the man might knock on the window and ask for directions. “And it didn’t look scary at all,” she said.

“He’s smiling. Next thing, my chest exploded. The first bullet came in here and my lungs just exploded,” Savino said on “Top Story with Tom Llamas.”

Wendy Savino, first “Son of Sam” victim, appears on “Top Story with Tom Lamas.”NBC News

Savino was recently confirmed by the New York Police Department as the first victim of the notorious “Son of Sam” serial killer, David Berkowitz, whose reign of terror stretched from 1976 to July 1977.

Sitting in her car in Queens, Savino was shot five times but survived, though she lost her right eye.

Berkowitz, also known as the “.44-caliber killer,” was arrested on Aug. 10, 1977, and was later sentenced to 25 years to life after pleading guilty to six murders. Seven people were wounded.

Berkowitz shot Savino three times at first, and then twice more in the back, she said. Savino recalled hearing Berkowitz laughing.

David Berkowitz Ed Zigo
David Berkowitz, center, is taken into police headquarters by New York Police Department detective Ed Zigo, right, on Aug. 11, 1977.Hal Goldenberg / AP file

She pretended to be dead.

“Where can I go? So, I just stayed there. And the parking lot was made of gravel. And I hear his footsteps receding, going away from me,” Savino said. “When I no longer hear his feet, I get up, open the door, I roll out onto the gravel.”

Savino was able to make it to a restaurant, where she got help. She then spent two months in intensive care.

The NYPD recently went to her home and confirmed that she was the first victim of the “Son of Sam” killer.

Savino credits Manny Grossman, who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to the serial killings and who got all the police records connected to Berkowitz’ cases.

“And he went through them. And he found my sketch in Donna Lauria’s file,” Savino said. Lauria, 18, was the first person Berkowitz killed.

Berkowitz is serving his sentence at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Ulster County, New York. He is eligible for parole, but he has been denied — most recently last month, according to the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Savino said that if she could say anything to Berkowitz, “I’d call him a rotten bastard.”

“I’m so angry at him,” she said.

“How dare you? How dare he? I mean, he ruined my life. I was in the theater before. I was a contortionist. I was a trapeze artist,” Savino said. She said Berkowitz took that away from her.

Savino said that after a shooting like hers or after any other traumatic event, a lesson is to stay strong and keep hope.

“I suppose there’s always hope, that you have to be strong, you have to be positive,” Savino said. “If you become negative — when even just through an injury or a surgery — if you’re miserable or negative, if you’re not going to lift up, you’ve got to be positive and you got to believe that you can do it.”

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