Story Summary

Firefighters Shot and Killed Responding to House Fire

At least two firefighters in Webster, New York were shot and killed while responding to a house fire. A few other first responders were injured in the incident.

At this time it appears the emergency crews were targeted, but it’s not clear why.

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Man who killed 2 firefighters left a chilling noteNEW YORK CITY (CNN) -

Police on Friday arrested a 24-year-old woman in connection with the gunman who ambushed and killed two firefighters as they battled a blaze in upstate New York, police said.

Dawn Nguyen of Rochester, New York, faces charges of filing a falsified business record, which is thought to be linked to the purchase of the AR-15 rifle and 12-gauge shotgun that the gunman had with him during the attack. The nature of her alleged relationship to the shooter — identified by authorities as William Spengler, 62 — is unclear.

Nguyen was “turned her over to ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) agents to be processed at the federal level, and arraigned by a federal magistrate this afternoon,” said state police Investigator James Newell.

The shooter — who was convicted of killing his grandmother decades ago — used the same type of weapon employed in the recent assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 26 people dead, including 20 children. As a convicted felon, Spengler was not allowed to legally possess weapons.

“He was equipped to go to war,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The gunman was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later.

Nguyen’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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WEBSTER, New York (CNN)-

A sniper who ambushed volunteer firefighters in upstate New York on Monday, killing two and seriously wounding two others, left a note saying he hoped to burn down his neighborhood and kill as many people as possible, police said Tuesday.

A charred body, believed to be his sister’s, was found in the burned house she shared with him Tuesday, police said.

William Spengler, 62, used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, the same kind of weapon used in the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.

“He was equipped to go to war,” Chief Pickering said.

The shooter, who was convicted of killing his grandmother decades ago, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later.

Pickering, at a news conference Tuesday, read a sentence from the three-page typewritten note that detectives believe Spengler’s left behind: “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.”

The note indicated Spengler’s intentions, but not his motive, Pickering said. The rest of the contents will not be made public because it is evidence in a criminal investigation, he said.

There is “all kinds of speculation” about why Spengler wanted to destroy his neighborhood and kill firefighters and residents, Pickering said.

One theory is that he was upset about a donation his mother, who died in the past year, made to the fire department, he said. Another theory is there could be a connection to his arrest in the killing of his grandmother, he said.

“Motive is always the burning question and I’m not sure we’ll ever really know what was going through his mind,” Pickering said.

Spengler was convicted in 1981 of first-degree manslaughter in the death of his grandmother and had been released on supervised parole, Pickering said.

It will be a challenge for the medical examiner to determine if his siste r– 67-year-old Cheryl Spengler was killed before the fire was set because it was a “raging inferno,” Pickering said.

Spengler’s former neighbor, Roger Vercruysse, said that Spengler was a nice guy who used to come over to Vercruysse’s sister’s house for holiday parties and would wave to the family from his front porch, where he often sat during the summer.

“He’d come to our house, we used to have picnics,” he said.

Spengler was especially attentive to his mother, who passed away in October, Vercruysse said, visiting her every day in the nursing home where she lived until she died.

“He loved his mama,” Vercruysse said. “He always talked about his mother.”

Spengler did not share the same closeness with his sister, with whom he shared his home, Vercruysse said.

“He told me he hated his sister and never could tell me why,” he said. “I’d always wave to the sister, but she was not friendly.”

Firefighters from the Rochester-area town of Webster responded before 6 a.m. Monday to a 911 call, reporting a fire that Spengler is believed to have set, when the gunfire began, Pickering said.

“This was a clear ambush on first responders,” he said. Spengler was firing from “a natural depression” against a bank and a tree, he said.

An off-duty police officer, who happened on the scene, returned gunfire and sheltered firefighters with his car, Pickering said.

“Had the police officer not been there, more people would have been killed because he immediately engaged the shooter with a rifle,” he said. “Essentially, it was a combat condition.” Investigators won’t know until after an autopsy if any of his shots hit Spengler, he said.

Officer John Ritter of the Greece, New York, Police Department, suffered minor shrapnel wounds but was released after treatment at a hospital.

The two wounded firefighters were in stable condition after surgery Tuesday, Pickering said Tuesday morning. They were being treated for “serious injuries” in intensive care at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, he said.

Seven houses were destroyed and several others damaged by the fire, which investigators believe spread from a car parked next to the home where they believe Spengler lived, Pickering said.

Authorities do not know how Spengler obtained the Bushmaster rifle, .38-caliber revolver and 12-gauge shotgun he used, Pickering said. As a convicted felon, Spengler was not allowed to legally possess weapons.

In chilling audio heard over a scanner Monday, a West Webster Fire Department firefighter reported “multiple firemen shot” — including himself, with wounds to his lower back and lower leg — and “shots still being fired.”

“I’m pretty sure that we have two DOAs” — the term for dead on arrival — “on the street,” the wounded firefighter said. “… They’re down and not good.”

For several hours after that, the threat of gunfire stopped firefighters from battling the blaze and forced police SWAT teams to evacuate 33 people in the neighborhood of small waterfront homes.

The fire destroyed seven houses. It was under control by 2:30 p.m. ET, but authorities weren’t able to get into any of the homes. Pickering said it’s possible that more victims could be inside.

Lt. Michael Chiapperini, a firefighter who died at the scene, was a veteran of the West Webster Fire Department and a police lieutenant. He’d been named Firefighter of the Year just two weeks ago. And not long before that, he had volunteered to go to Long Island to help those suffering after Superstorm Sandy, New York Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy said.

The other slain firefighter was Tomasz Kaczowka, who was also a 911 dispatcher. He’d been with the West Webster Fire Department for just more than a year, department spokesman Al Sienkiewicz said.

The shooting occurred amid a renewed gun control debate after the December 14 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, most of them children. The gunman in that case, Adam Lanza, also killed his mother and himself.

The head of a lobbying group that represents first responders said the Monday shooting was “senseless and cruel.”

“The firefighters who responded today were performing a selfless, meaningful service to their community, unaware that a cold-hearted maniac was planning to ambush them and take their lives,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the Washington-based International Association of Fire Fighters. “Coming on the heels of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and on Christmas Eve, this shooting is even harder to comprehend.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the Webster shooting as “horrific.” And the state’s attorney general called it a “senseless tragedy”

President Barack Obama has set a January deadline for “concrete proposals” to deal with gun violence after the Newtown shooting.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, while National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre has said his group will fight any new gun restrictions, saying most gun laws now on the books are rarely enforced.

Pickering, the Webster police chief, said it was important — after the shooting in his town and others — to “get a handle on gun control.” He also said more needs to be done to make sure that dangerous people aren’t in society, where they can kill.

“For the last 20 years we have been turning people loose and de-institutionalizing people, and I think we’ve swung too far,” he said. “I think there are still people that need to be in institutions that are a danger to themselves or others. And this is a classic example.”

CNN’s Brittany Brady, Chuck Johnston, Jake Carpenter and John Fricke contributed to this report.

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NYfireshootingWEBSTER, NY (LA Times) -

This time, there was a note.

Before ex-con William Spengler, 62, opened fire on firefighters who had responded to a blaze at his home in Webster, N.Y., on Christmas Eve, killing two and seriously wounding two others, he’d typed a couple pages announcing his plans, police said.

“I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I do best: killing people,” Spengler wrote, police said Tuesday.

Read more at latimes.com

NYfireshootingWEBSTER, N.Y. (CNN)-

William Spengler had killed before.

The first time, presumably, was in 1980. Then about 40 years old, Spengler struck his grandmother with a hammer. A year later, he was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in her death.

Flash forward to before dawn Monday, in Webster, New York, a town of about 43,000 people located 10 miles east of Rochester. That’s when and where, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said, Spengler presumably set his and his sister’s home ablaze, lugged weapons up a hill, then waited.

When local firefighters arrived at the scene, Spengler fired and killed again.

Authorities haven’t given a motive for the latest violence, which left two firefighters dead and two other firefighters and an off-duty police officer from a nearby town wounded.

And they can’t ask the shooter, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head around 11 a.m., about six hours after first calls about the fire came in.

But the Webster police chief has his own idea about why this happened.

“Just looking at the history, obviously this is an individual who had a lot of problems, to kill his grandmother,” Pickering said. “And I’m sure there were … mental health issues involved.”

After his 1981 manslaughter conviction, Spengler was given an indeterminate sentence, said Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley.

He ended up spending nearly 18 years behind bars until his release in 1998. Through 2006, Spengler was on supervised parole, during which time Doorley said she wasn’t aware of any events suggesting he had gotten into further trouble.

Nor, Pickering said, had police had any “contact with him criminally” in the recent past.

Until Monday.

By then, Spengler was living in a home in Webster, likely with his sister, who was still unaccounted for Monday afternoon. Their mother had died sometime in the past year, according to Pickering.

He’d accumulated weapons, bringing “several different types” with him before the shootings, the police chief said. It is not known how he obtained these firearms, but ex-felons are not allowed to possess weapons.

But because Spengler had them, two families are in mourning. Many of his former neighbors are homeless, because having a gunman on the loose slowed fire crews’ efforts to corral a blaze that eventually destroyed seven homes.

“It’s Christmas Eve. This is a day where people are getting together to celebrate a holiday,” Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy told reporters in Webster. “This tragedy is just unthinkable and unspeakable.”

CNN’s Greg Botelho filed this report.

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NYfireshootingWEBSTER, N.Y. (CNN)-

A man convicted of killing his grandmother decades ago ambushed firefighters on Monday, fatally shooting two of them as they arrived to battle a blaze in upstate New York, police said.

Two other firefighters were wounded in the attack in the Rochester-area town of Webster. A police officer from the nearby town of Greece suffered minor shrapnel wounds when his vehicle was hit by gunfire.

Investigators believe the suspect, William Spengler, 62, set the original fire, then likely set himself up on a berm with a clear view of the scene and started shooting.

“It appears that it was a trap,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. “There was a car and a house that were involved in flames, probably set by Mr. Spengler, who laid in wait in armament and then shot the first responders.”

Authorities do not know how Spengler — who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours after the four firefighters were shot — obtained the weapon or weapons he used or why he opened fire, Pickering told reporters. As a convicted felon, Spengler was not allowed to legally possess weapons, but he had “several different types of weapons” Monday, the police chief said.

Spengler was convicted in 1981 of first-degree manslaughter in the death of his grandmother and had been released on supervised parole, Pickering said.

He is believed to have lived in the home where the original fire erupted with his sister, who has not yet been accounted for, Pickering said. Their mother died sometime in the past year, the chief added.

For several hours Monday, the threat of gunfire stopped firefighters from battling the blaze and forced police SWAT teams to evacuate 33 people in the neighborhood of small waterfront homes.

Eventually, seven houses were “totally destroyed” by the fire. Although the fires were under control as of 2:30 p.m. ET, by then authorities still hadn’t been able to get in any of the homes. Pickering said it’s possible more victims could be inside.

“I’m hoping that everyone was able to escape from the inferno,” he said. “Those houses were close together.”

With ‘raging inferno’ and gunfire, scene described as ‘chaos’

Firefighters first arrived at the Webster fire before 6 a.m., said Rob Boutillier, the town’s fire marshal.

By then, Spengler had set up himself somewhere above the scene in a “natural hollow, a position of cover to actually be a sniper,” Pickering explained.

The calls from firefighter came in soon after, reporting that four of them had been shot. Police officers rushed to the scene, and one of the first ones there exchanged fire, “in all likelihood, (saving) many lives,” according to the police chief.

“When we get there, we have people down, we have raging fires, and we have gunshots going off,” Pickering said.

“It’s chaos. It’s chaos.”

Authorities worked quickly to set up a perimeter, trying to contain the situation and the shooter. Neighborhood residents were first told to “shelter in place” because the gunman was at large, but some left their homes because of the fire.

Several people could be seen running. Police tracked some of them down, found they were neighbors seeking safety and escorted them out. Eventually, residents were whisked from the area in armored personnel carriers. All the while, there was “this raging inferno, with black smoke everywhere,” Pickering said.

No more gunfire was exchanged after that initial burst, though police did see a man they believed to be Spengler moving at times. The police chief said he didn’t know if the police officer hit Spengler early on, but he said the medical examiner indicated that Spengler was killed after shooting himself in the head.

Two firefighters also died at the scene.

One of them, Lt. Michael Chiapperini, was a veteran of the West Webster Fire Department and also a police lieutenant. He’d been named Firefighter of the Year just two weeks ago, and not long before that, he had volunteered to go to Long Island to help those suffering after Superstorm Sandy, according to Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy.

The other slain firefighter was Tomasz Kaczowka, who was also a 911 dispatcher. He’d been with the West Webster Fire Department for just more than a year, fire department spokesman Al Sienkiewisz said.

One firefighter escaped from the scene in his own vehicle about an hour after he was shot and was taken to a hospital by an ambulance from another location, Boutillier said. Another wounded firefighter was conscious and speaking when he was removed from the scene, he said.

The wounded firefighters were in intensive care Monday at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, officials said.

The other person wounded was a Greece, New York, police officer who was on his way to work when his car was fired upon. He suffered shrapnel wounds that Pickering described as minor.

“We work with these people everyday; they’re like our brothers,” said Pickering of the slain firefighters, as he fought back tears. “It’s terrible.”

New shooting spurs more talk on gun control

Authorities have not said what weapons were found with Spengler, though Pickering said “probably at least a rifle was used” to shoot the first responders.

“I know that many people are going to be asking, ‘Were they assault rifles?’ ” I don’t know that. I can’t answer that at this time,” he told reporters.

The shooting occurred amid a renewed gun control debate after the December 14 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, most of them children. The gunman in that case, Adam Lanza, also killed his mother and himself.

The head of a lobbying group that represents first responders said the Monday shooting was “senseless and cruel.”

“The firefighters who responded today were performing a selfless, meaningful service to their community, unaware that a cold-hearted maniac was planning to ambush them and take their lives,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the Washington-based International Association of Fire Fighters. “Coming on the heels of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and on Christmas Eve, this shooting is even harder to comprehend.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the Webster shooting as “horrific.” And the state’s attorney general called it a “senseless tragedy”

President Barack Obama has set a January deadline for “concrete proposals” to deal with gun violence in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, while National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre has said his group will fight any new gun restrictions, saying most gun laws now on the books are rarely enforced.

Pickering, the Webster police chief, said it was important — in the wake of the shooting in his town and others — to “get a handle on gun control.” He also said more needs to be done to make sure that dangerous people aren’t in society, where they can kill.

“For the last 20 years we have been turning people loose and de-institutionalizing people, and I think we’ve swung too far,” he said. “I think there are still people that need to be in institutions that are a danger to themselves or others. And this is a classic example.”

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet, Greg Botelho, Chuck Johnston, Jake Carpenter and John Fricke filed this report.

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WEBSTER, New York (CNN)-

The shooter who killed two firefighters in upstate New York on Monday is dead, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering told reporters.

“The threat has been eliminated. The shooter is believed to be deceased at the scene,” he said, adding that it appears the shooter set a trap for the firefighters.

A total of four firefighters were shot as they were responding to the fire, which engulfed four homes.

Authorities believe one or more shooters took aim at the firefighters after they left their vehicles, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described it as a “horrific shooting” and a “senseless act of violence.”

“Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty,” he said in a statement.

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NYFire

A fire burning 3 homes was the scene of a deadly shooting in Webster, New York.

WEBSTER, New York (CNN)-

At least two firefighters died when they were shot at the scene of a blaze in upstate New York on Monday, police said.

Two other firefighters were injured, police in Webster, New York, told reporters.

Authorities believe one or more shooters took aim at the firefighters after they left their vehicles, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.

It was unclear whether there were any suspects.

“We have different individuals that were possible people with knowledge, but at this point I can’t really comment,” Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn told reporters.

For hours, the gunfire stopped firefighters from working to extinguish the fire and forced police SWAT teams to evacuate homes in the area.

Firefighters first arrived before 6 a.m., said Rob Boutillier, Webster’s fire marshal. By 9 a.m., flames had engulfed three houses and a vehicle, he said.

“It’s still an active crime scene,” Pickering said. “We have firefighters there at the location. It took a while to make it safe … to put out the fires.”

Doctors were treating the wounded firefighters Monday morning, said Teri D’Agostino, a spokeswoman for Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. They were in guarded condition, she said.

One firefighter escaped from the scene in his own vehicle about an hour after he was shot, then was taken to the hospital by an ambulance from another location, Boutillier said. He was listed in satisfactory condition, Boutillier said.

Another wounded firefighter was conscious and speaking when he was removed from the scene, Boutillier said.

By Catherine E. Shoichet, Chuck Johnston, Jake Carpenter and John Fricke

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