"These people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires," Webster New York Police Chief Gerald Pickering said yesterday of the two firefighters murdered yesterday in a Christmas Eve ambush by an ex-con granny killer. “They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”
Four firefighters were shot yesterday morning when they responded to reports of a house and car on fire in the Webster suburb of Rochester. Upon arriving on the scene they were fired at by 62-year-old ex-con William Spengler, who had positioned himself like a sniper—in "a hollow"— above where they arrived. Firefighters Joseph Hofstetter, shot in the pelvis and spine, and Theodore Scardino, hit in the chest and knee, are in guarded condition but are expected to survive. But 43-year-old Police Lt. Mike Chiapperini and 19-year-old 911 dispatcher Tomasz Kaczowka—Chiapperini's son's best friend—did not surivve.
Once they realized what was happening the firefighters quickly and calmly reported the situation to dispatchers. You can hear Hofstetter describing the situation here:
“We are being shot at. Multiple firemen shot, I am shot. I think it’s an assault rifle. We have multiple firemen down, working fire … I’m pretty sure we have 2 DOAs (Dead On Arrival) in the street … I am under cover of the fire truck which I have tried to move down the street, which has crashed. I am concerned about leaving the safe area I’m in, trying to move down the street, but I need immediate EMS … I am struck in the lower back and lower leg, both can be deadly so I need immediate EMS … The two victims hit have not moved since they’ve been struck.”
The first police officer on the scene exchanged fire with Spenger who then fled. The gunman, who in 1981 pleaded guilty to manslaughter for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer [PDF], then appears to have shot himself. An off-duty police officer who was driving near the scene was also injured by shrapnel.
The motive for the attack, which Pickering described as a "trap," was unclear but a neighbor guessed it may have had to do with the killer's sister, who remains unaccounted for. Spenger lived in the home set ablaze yesterday with his sister and mother, who died in October.
A friend of the gunman, Roger Vercruysse, said Spengler didn't seem violent but hated his sister. Vercruysse said Spengler "loved his mama to death" and that he thinks his friend "went crazy" after she died.
Because Spenger was an ex-con he was not legally allowed to own guns. "Authorities said that they did not know where he got the weapons, but that there had been recent gun thefts in Monroe County, where Webster is."
Meanwhile, Webster was mourning on Christmas Eve. As one resident told CBS, "They're always there for you, you know? You take them for granted. You don't know -- oh, I'm sorry, I just -- it's just -- it's Christmas! I mean, who targets people on Christmas?"