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Police: Gunman set ‘trap’ for New York firefighters
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WEBSTER, N.Y. (AP) — An ex-convict set a car and a house ablaze in his lakeside neighborhood to lure firefighters, then opened fire on them, killing two, engaging in a shootout with police and committing suicide while several homes burned. Authorities used an armored vehicle to evacuate the area.
The gunman fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze in Webster, a suburb of Rochester on Lake Ontario, town police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire, authorities said.
Police say the gunman lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters’ arrival, then opened fire, probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Chief Pickering said.
“It does appear it was a trap,” he said.
The gunman, William Spengler, served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980 at the house next to the location of Monday’s attack, Chief Pickering said at afternoon news conference. Mr. Spengler, 62, was paroled in 1998 and had led a quiet life since, authorities said. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons.
Two firefighters, one of whom was also a town police lieutenant, died at the scene, and two others were hospitalized. A fifth man who was passing by also was injured. The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Mr. Spengler “in all likelihood saved many lives,” Chief Pickering said.
Seven houses were destroyed, Chief Pickering said, and police have not been able to get inside to determine if there are any more victims. They said Mr. Spengler’s 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, was unaccounted for. He lived in the house with his sister and mother, Arline, who died in October.
Mr. Spengler originally was charged with second-degree murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler’s death. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.
The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire early Monday after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said.
The fire appeared from a distance as a pulsating ball of flame glowing against the early morning sky, flames licking into treetops and reflecting on the water, with huge bursts of smoke billowing away in a brisk wind.
Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Chief Pickering said. After Mr. Spengler fired, one of the wounded men managed to flee, but the other three couldn’t because of flying gunfire.
A police armored vehicle was used to recover two of the men, and eventually it evacuated 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said. The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes.
“These people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires; they don’t expect to be shot and killed,” Chief Pickering said.
The dead men were identified as police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher, whose age was not released.
Chief Pickering described Lt. Chiapperini as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years with the department, and he called Mr. Kaczowka a “tremendous young man.”
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