4 firefighters shot, 2 fatally, in western NY
Gunman who trapped and shot the volunteer firefighters is dead; one of the slain is also a police lieutenant
The Associated Press
WEBSTER, N.Y. —The ex-convict who lured two firefighters to their deaths in a blaze of gunfire left a typewritten note saying he wanted to burn down his New York state neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people,” police said Tuesday.
Police Chief Gerald Pickering said Tuesday that 62-year-old William Spengler, who served 17 years in prison for the 1980 hammer killing of his grandmother, armed himself with a revolver, a shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle before he set his house on fire to lure first responders into a death trap before dawn on Christmas Eve.
Two firefighters were shot dead and two were hospitalized. Spengler killed himself as seven houses burned around him Monday on a narrow spit of land along Lake Ontario.
One of the weapons recovered was a military-style .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle, the same make and caliber gun used in this month’s school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Pickering said.
The two- to three-page note left by Spengler didn’t give a motive for the shootings, Pickering said. He declined to divulge the note’s full content or say where it was found, but he read one line from it: “I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best, killing people.”
Pickering said authorities were still looking for Spengler’s 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, who lived with him. Their mother, Arline, also lived there until she died in October.
Spengler fired at the four firefighters when they arrived Monday morning to put out the fire, Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.
Authorities said Spengler hadn’t done anything to bring himself to their attention since his parole. As a convicted felon, he wasn’t allowed to possess weapons. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said Spengler led a very quiet life after he got out of prison.
A friend said Spengler hated his sister. Roger Vercruysse lived next door and recalled a man who doted on his mother.
“He loved his mama to death,” said Vercruysse, who last saw his friend about six months ago.
Vercruysse also said Spengler “couldn’t stand his sister” and “stayed on one side of the house and she stayed on the other.”
Emergency radio communications captured someone Monday saying he “could see the muzzle flash coming at me” as Spengler carried out his ambush. The audio posted on the website RadioReference.com has someone reporting “firefighters are down” and saying “got to be rifle or shotgun _ high powered ... semi or fully auto.”
After Spengler fired, one of the wounded men fled, but the other three couldn’t because of gunfire.
The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler “in all likelihood saved many lives,” Pickering said.
A police armored vehicle was used to recover two men, and eventually it removed 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said. The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes.
The dead men were identified as police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department’s public information officer; and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka, also an emergency dispatcher.
Pickering described Chiapperini as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years in the department, and he called Kaczowka a “tremendous young man.”
Kaczowka’s brother, reached at the family home Monday night, said he didn’t want to talk.
The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were in stable condition Tuesday, the chief said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.
Hofstetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee.