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2 firefighters die in ambush at blazing NY house

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:02 a.m. HST, Dec 25, 2012

WEBSTER, N.Y. >> An ex-con gunned down two firefighters after luring them to his neighborhood by setting a car and a house ablaze early Monday, then took shots at police and committed suicide while several homes burned.

Authorities used an armored vehicle to help residents flee dozens of homes on the shore of Lake Ontario a day before Christmas. Police restricted access to the neighborhood, and officials said it was not clear whether there were other bodies in the seven houses left to burn.

The sister of the gunman, who lived with him, was unaccounted for. The gunman's motive was unknown.

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, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire.

He lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters' arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.

"It does appear it was a trap," he said.

The gunman, William Spengler, had 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 where Monday's attack happened, Pickering said at afternoon news conference. 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. An off-duty officer who was passing by was also injured.

Another police officer, the one who exchanged gunfire with Spengler, "in all likelihood saved many lives," Pickering said.

Emergency radio communications capture someone 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."

Spengler lived in the house with his sister and mother, Arline, who died in October. He had originally been charged with second-degree murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler's death but 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, Pickering said. After 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 men, and eventually it evacuated 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 Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher, whose age was not released.

Pickering described Chiapperini as a "lifetime firefighter" with nearly 20 years in the department, and called Kaczowka a "tremendous young man."

The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, authorities 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.

At West Webster Fire Station 1, there were at least 20 bouquets on a bench in front and a bouquet of roses with three gold-and-white ribbons saying, "May they rest in peace," ''In the line of duty" and "In memory of our fallen brothers."

A handwritten sign says, "Thanks for protecting us, RIP." Two candles were lit to honor the dead.

Grieving firefighters declined to talk to reporters. A memorial vigil was planned for early Monday evening.

The shooting and fires were in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round homes set close together across the road from the lakeshore. The area is popular with recreational boaters but is normally quiet this time of year.

"We have very few calls for service in that location," Pickering said. "Webster is a tremendous community. We are a safe community, and to have a tragedy befall us like this is just horrendous."

O'Flynn lamented the violence, which comes on the heels of other shootings including the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"It's sad to see that that this is becoming more commonplace in communities across the nation," O'Flynn said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the State Police and Office of Emergency Management were working with local authorities.

"Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty," Cuomo said in a statement. "We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones."

Webster, a middle-class suburb, now is the scene of violence linked to house fires for two Decembers in a row.

Last Dec. 7, authorities say, a 15-year-old boy doused his home with gasoline and set it ablaze, killing his father and two brothers, 16 and 12. His mother and 13-year-old sister escaped with injuries. He is being prosecuted as an adult.


Associated Press writers Chris Carola, George Walsh and Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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control wrote:
Most fire depts in that area are all volunteer...Too many guns, too readily available, too many idiots with a bug up their dakine.
on December 24,2012 | 06:40AM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 24,2012 | 12:45PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Exactly. This guy should have been put to death. Killing his grandmother with a hammer and he only serves 17 years? For those of you who argue against the death penalty on the grounds that "it is not a deterrent" , I don't care. What it does, is it guarantees that violent criminals don't repeat their crime.
on December 24,2012 | 03:22PM
808comp wrote:
Wonder if Wayne LaPierre (VP for NRA) is now going to say they need armed security officers when the fire fighters goes out on a call to fight fires.
on December 24,2012 | 06:58AM
GooglyMoogly wrote:
I think his solution would be to arm the firefighters.
on December 24,2012 | 08:24AM
aomohoa wrote:
One of the dead firefighters was also a town police lieutenant. Did you read this part.
on December 24,2012 | 08:59AM
Anonymous wrote:
Why, yes! Restricting firearms would have prevented this man from getting a gun and committing his deadly deed (LOL!)
on December 24,2012 | 10:10AM
savan68 wrote:
It's New York, the strictest gun laws in the nation, I don't think there is anything he can say.
on December 24,2012 | 09:04PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
This is just crazy!
on December 24,2012 | 08:19AM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 24,2012 | 12:48PM
IAmSane wrote:
So you want to live like a barbarian?
on December 24,2012 | 02:03PM
Waterman2 wrote:
What are we now ?
on December 24,2012 | 02:50PM
Psyche wrote:
Very sad event. RIP good fellows RIP
on December 24,2012 | 08:52AM
7yearTribulation wrote:
The shooting in Conn. , other shootings , this shooting of the firefighters, we live in a fallen world and Gods people need to watch and pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray , and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways , I will hear from heaven forgive their sins and healed their land" God Almighty
on December 24,2012 | 09:59AM
IAmSane wrote:
on December 24,2012 | 10:11AM
RichardCory wrote:
No reason to be confused. Prayer makes everything better. Or is it that it makes you feel that everything is better? I always mix up the two. Dang.
on December 24,2012 | 06:41PM
control wrote:
God and religion has nothing to do with instilling moral values to our children.
on December 24,2012 | 10:27AM
Waterman2 wrote:
Are you crazy ? Where do moral values come from ?
on December 24,2012 | 02:51PM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 24,2012 | 04:51PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Based on what premises? By the way, Merry Christmas.
on December 24,2012 | 06:09PM
entrkn wrote:
The nra will now proclaim that all firemen should have to carry assault rifles with multiple 50 round clips of ammunition...
on December 24,2012 | 10:53AM
RichardCory wrote:
We should just start grafting guns onto babies at birth.
on December 24,2012 | 06:42PM
MaWy wrote:
This was truly a demoniac man, obviously intent on causing as much pain and sadness on others as he could. Him beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer should have been the impetus to put him away for the rest of his life. But that didn't happen, and now this. So disturbing. My heart goes out to all the victims in this tragedy.
on December 24,2012 | 03:21PM
Komatose wrote:
I don't watch Zombie Movies. My life/reality is exciting enough with the "Mental Zombies" on the loose. And this seems to be the season. Demonic&criminal activity with fires, hammers, guns, cars, what ever tool they can get their hands on. And keep God out of our Government/lives. As to those engaging them say ...."Pray, and pass the ammunition" now a S.W.A.T. member will have to be close to cover for firefighters. Time to order those "armored up" Ambulances too. Hand me down troop carriers will do. No wonder returning veterans have a hard time adjusting.....the "unfriendlies" are here too. At least here in the islands we are "Blessed" to have a sense of Aloha and a filter of documentation to arrive here to slow down the spread. However, we are not immune. But we do have more Hope than others.... and none in the Farrington Gym.
on December 24,2012 | 05:00PM
808warriorfan wrote:
HAVEN'T HEARD ANY B.S. STATEMENTS FROM THE N.R.A. ABOUT THIS.....Ever wonder why you never hear from members of the N.R.A after a senseless crime like this ?????
on December 24,2012 | 08:51PM
koolau wrote:
Perhaps it's the same reason why you don't hear from Ace Hardware or Sears when this mental killed his grandmother with a hammer! Knee jerk reactions from persons such as the above, the media, and politicians are quick to react to the "symptoms" of what's wrong rather than burrowing down to the cause.
on December 25,2012 | 05:56AM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
It would appear that lawyers aren't sufficiently trained or educated in prosecuting, but rather in "plea deals." It is also obvious that judges truly believe in the "basuc goodness of man" in sentencing. Judges can always reject "plea deals" but no that would cause the jurist to spend more time on the bench then on the golf course.
on December 25,2012 | 03:55AM
koolau wrote:
It's the same reason why you haven't heard from the hardware stores for the killing of his grandmother with a hammer!
on December 25,2012 | 05:58AM
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