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Police in Webster, N.Y., said this morning that two firefighters were shot and killed while responding to a fire in the upstate New York town, victims of an apparent “trap” set by a shooter who is believed to be dead at the scene.Two other firefighters have been injured and are in “guarded” condition at nearby Strong Memorial Hospital, according to CNN.
“It does appear it was a trap that was set,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said, often choking back tears throughout a 10-minute news conference this morning.
At an afternoon briefing, Pickering identified the suspect as 62-year-old William Spengler of Webster as the suspect. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as police chased him around 11 a.m. Pickering said there was a “brief exchange of gunfire” between Spengler and first responders.
Pickering said that the firefighters who were killed and injured acted on a call at 5:45 a.m. this morning of a fire at 191 Lake Road in Webster. All four who responded were shot. One was able to flee from the scene in his car and made it to the nearby hospital.
“These people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires. They don’t expect to be shot and killed,” Pickering said.
The Rochester, N.Y.-based NBC affiliate reported that police Lt. Mike Chiapperini, who was also a volunteer firefighter, and Tomasz Kaczowka were the two firefighters who died in the shooting. Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofsetter were the two injured. Pickering said Chiapperini was a friend with 20 years of experience on the force.
Pickering said the suspect, Spengler, was arrested in 1980 and convicted of manslaughter in the death of his grandmother. He served 17 years in jail until 1998 and was on parole until 2006, police said. Pickering said that Spengler’s sister, who lived at his residence, was unaccounted for.
Pickering said “several” weapons were used at the shooting, which were not legally held because of Spengler’s status as a convicted felon. Pickering said “at least” an assault rifle was used.
“This is an individual who obviously had a lot of problems,” Pickering said of Spengler adding that there were “probably some mental-health issues.”
The shooting comes just more than a week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., something that Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks acknowledged in the press conference.
“There’s a heightened awareness to this kind of violence in light of what happened in Connecticut, and I just want everyone to remember: It’s Christmas Eve. We have first responders, and we have families who are in pain and crisis today and we need to as a community keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
It also comes amid renewed debate about the necessity for stricter gun legislation across the country. President Barack Obama and other lawmakers have supported a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. A defiant NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre spent the weekend defending his organisation and calling for armed officers in every school, but said new gun laws would not solve the problem.
“I know that many people are going to be asking ‘Were they assault rifles?'” Pickering said, adding that authorities did not yet know.
Rob Boutillier, the fire marshal in the upstate New York town, told reporters in a press conference earlier this morning that a gunman began shooting at the firefighters when they arrived at the scene shortly after 6 a.m. The firefighters were prevented from battling the blaze, which had spread to three homes by 9 a.m.
“Our main concern right now is to have law enforcement evacuate the people in harm’s way — make the scene safe for the fire department,” Boutillier told reporters, according to CNN. “And then the fire department will go in and do its job.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted that it was a “senseless act of violence.”