WEBSTER, N.Y. — An ex-con 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 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. 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, Pickering said, and police have not been able to get inside 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.
Spengler had originally been charged with second-degree murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler's death. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.