A gunman set a car and a house on fire early on Monday, with the intent of ensnaring firefighters to the fire. Firefighters who rushed to the scene of the fire were met by a hail of bullets from the ex-con. Two firemen died and two were injured. The shooter, later identified as William Spengler, then killed himself.
Ironically Spengler had served 17 years in a New York prison on manslaughter charges. He was accused of bludgeoning his 92-year old granny to death with a hammer. Since convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons, it was uncertain how he came into possession of what was probably a semi or fully automatic rifle or shotgun.
Officials had to use an armored vehicle to help locals flee the seven houses that were left to burn. The police have not ruled out the possibilities of finding other bodies in the burning houses. The shooters motive was not yet determined, neither was there any news about his sister who lived with him.
An emotional Police Chief Gerald Pickering said that it does look like he set a trap for the firefighters, waiting for their arrival and then taking shots at them, probably with a rifle.
The first police officer, who arrived at the scene, chased the suspect and both exchanged gunfire. Pickering said that his prompt action probably prevented more deaths.
Two firefighters, police Lt. Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, succumbed to bullet wounds on the spot, whilst two others were hospitalized. The former worked as a public information inspector for the Webster Police Department whilst the latter was a 911 dispatcher. Pickering said that Chiapperini had put in almost two decades of service in the police department was a “lifetime firefighter.” He said that Kaczowka was a “tremendous young man.”
The two firefighters who took bullet injuries were identified as Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino. Hofstetter was hit in the pelvis and a bullet is still lodged in his spine. Scardino took hits to the chest and his knee. However, doctors say that they are expected to recover.
Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said that it was shocking that such a thing had happened so close on the heels of the horrendous massacre at Sandy Hook and said that its frequency was growing cause for alarm.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the police and the emergency management were collaborating with local authorities to best manage the situation. He expressed sorrow that two firefighters lost their lives and that others were injured and that their loved ones would be bereft of their company this Christmas.
Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters called the shooting “both senseless and cruel.”Shattered and shocked firefighters said that they were in no conditions to talk to reporters.
Local residents put up bouquets of roses and placards thanking the fallen firefighters of protecting them, whilst making the supreme sacrifice. Resident Joanne Nania told CBS news said, “ it’s Christmas! I mean, who targets people on Christmas?”