A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two, wounding two others and then killing himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.
The gunman fired at the firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze near the Lake Ontario shore in Webster, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first Webster police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said.
"It does appear it was a trap" for the first responders to the fire, Pickering said at a news conference.
The gunman, William Spengler, had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death in 1980 at the house next to where Monday's attack happened, Pickering said. Spengler, 62, was paroled in 1998 and had led a quiet life since, authorities said. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons.
Police say he set fire to a car and house to lure firefighters to his home on the shore of Lake Ontario. When they arrived, he opened fire from outdoors, probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm.
"He laid in wait with armament and shot first responders," Pickering said. Police don't know a motive yet.
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 was also injured. The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler and "in all likelihood saved many lives," Pickering said.
Seven houses were destroyed in the blaze, Pickering said, and police have not been able to get inside the houses to determine if there are any more victims. They said 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.