The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 8, 2013

Domestic call turns deadly: Man found dead in home after confrontation with police

David Hurst

BRUSH VALLEY — A Brush Valley man was shot and later found dead in his home early Monday after allegedly pulling a gun on troopers responding to a domestic dispute, state police in Indiana said.

State police said at least one trooper opened fire on 55-year-old Gary L. Wissinger, a former county sheriff’s deputy, after he pointed the handgun at one trooper – but have not yet confirmed whether or not any of the rounds fired by officers at the scene were fatal shots.

Trooper Deana Kirkland said an autopsy was being scheduled Monday to determine what killed Wissinger. A joint investigation with the Indiana County district attorney’s office remained ongoing, she added.

Police have not indicated how many rounds were fired at Wissinger – or if the Brush Valley man fired his weapon.

Investigators said they were dispatched to the Route 56 home, about 16 miles west of Johnstown, shortly after midnight on a domestic call.

Troopers arrived and found Wissinger near the front door, displaying a handgun that he then pointed at one trooper, Kirkland wrote.

“The trooper opened fire and the suspect retreated into his residence,” she said.

Neighbors said it sparked a standoff situation, with additional law enforcement officials arriving and surrounding Wissinger’s ranch-style home.

Linda Halldin, a neighbor, said her son awoke to what he thought was fireworks. But he quickly realized several shots had been fired next door.

Halldin said she looked outside her window shortly after 4:30 a.m. and saw SWAT team vehicles, a swarm of heavily protected police officers and patrol cars.

“It looked like something you’d see in the movies,” she said.

Wissinger’s wife was in the house but was unharmed, police said.

Police apparently tried to reach out to Wissinger from his front yard with a megaphone before entering the home a short time later, Haldin added.

Investigators allegedly found Wissinger dead in the home when they entered. An Indiana County coroner pronounced him dead at 6 a.m.

The incident, and Wissinger’s death, shocked and saddened Brush Valley neighbors, who described Wissinger as outgoing and neighborly.

Mike Griffith said Wissinger seemed at home outside, often motoring around on his tractor or pruning bushes.

“In the winter, he’d plow the church’s parking lot – that’s the kind of guy he was,” said Griffith, gesturing to Calvary United Methodist Church just 20 yards or so from Wissinger’s home. “He was always willing to lend a hand.”

Halldin said Wissinger raised his son and daughter in the home. He worked for years for Indiana County, first as a corrections officer at the jail and in 1994 through 2008 as a sheriff’s deputy, county human services officials confirmed.

He lived alone in the home for some time, and in recent years, battled several medical issues, Halldin said. He’d also recently remarried, she added.

“He always seemed positive ... at least until recently,” Halldin added, saying Wissinger “didn’t seem himself” in recent months.

 “All of a sudden, I’d wave at him and he’d just drive by,” she said. “It wasn’t the typical Gary.”

“Everyone has issues,” Griffith said, “but I don’t think anyone could have saw this coming.”

He and fellow neighbor Christina Smith called the incident shocking and tragic.

“No one around here that knew Gary would have a bad thing to say about him,” Smith said. “He’d do anything for you.”

State police spokesman John Matchik told The Associated Press that officers involved in the shooting, per standard protocol, have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues.