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Man who killed 2 New York firemen left note on killing plan

The ex-con said he wanted to burn down the neighbourhood. He shot at four firemen before turning the gun on himself.

William H Spengler Jr
William H Spengler Jr
Image: AP Photo/Monroe County Sheriff's Department

THE EX-CONVICT who lured firefighters to their deaths in a blaze of gunfire left a rambling typewritten note saying he wanted to burn down the neighbourhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people”.

Sixty-two-year-old William Spengler, who served 17 years in prison for the 1980 hammer slaying of his grandmother, armed himself with a revolver, a shotgun and a military-style rifle before he set his house afire to lure first responders into a death trap before dawn on Christmas Eve.

Two firefighters were shot dead and two others are hospitalized in stable condition. Spengler killed himself as seven houses burned around him Monday on a narrow spit of land along Lake Ontario.

One of the guns recovered was a military-style .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle with flash suppression, the same make and caliber weapon used in the elementary school massacre in Newtown.

The chief said police believe the firefighters were hit with shots from the rifle given the distance but the investigation was incomplete.

The two- to three-page typewritten note left by Spengler didn’t give a motive for the shootings.

Police declined to divulge the note’s full content or say where it was found, but read one line from it:

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.

Authorities are still looking for Spengler’s 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, who lived in the house with him. Their mother, Arline, also lived there until she died in October.

About 100 people attended an impromptu memorial vigil on Monday evening in Webster, a suburb of Rochester.

Dozens of bouquets were left at the fire station, along with a handwritten sign that said, “Thanks for protecting us. RIP.”

Spengler fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. on Monday to put out the fire. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.

(AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Jamie Germano)

Authorities said Spengler hadn’t done anything to bring himself to their attention since his parole. As a convicted felon, he wasn’t allowed to possess weapons. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said Spengler led a very quiet life after he got out of prison.

A friend said Spengler hated his sister. Roger Vercruysse lived next door to Spengler and recalled a man who doted on his mother, whose obituary suggested contributions to the West Webster Fire Department.

“He loved his mama to death,” said Vercruysse, who last saw his friend about six months ago.

Vercruysse also said Spengler “couldn’t stand his sister” and “stayed on one side of the house and she stayed on the other”.

The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said.

Emergency radio communications capture someone saying he “could see the muzzle flash coming at me” as Spengler carried out his ambush.

Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles. After Spengler fired, one of the wounded men fled, but the other three couldn’t because of flying gunfire.

The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler “in all likelihood saved many lives”, according to police.

A police armoured vehicle was used to recover two men, and eventually it removed 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said. The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes.

The dead men were identified as police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department’s public information officer; and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher.

Chiapperini was described as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years in the department, and while Kaczowka was called a “tremendous young man.”

The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were in stable condition earlier today at Strong Memorial Hospital.  Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.

Hofstetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee.

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Associated Press

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