WEBSTER, N.Y. • Police have found human remains in the burned-out home of the Webster, N.Y., ex-con who killed two firefighters and believe the victim is the gunman’s sister.
Police Chief Gerald Pickering said Tuesday the remains were found in the charred house that 62-year-old William Spengler shared with his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl. A medical examiner will need to determine the identity.
Police say Willliam Spengler armed himself with a revolver, shotgun and military-style rifle before he set his house afire to lure first responders into a pre-dawn death trap on Christmas Eve.
Pickering says Spengler "was equipped to go to war."
Spengler killed himself as seven houses burned around him. A friend said Spengler hated his sister but police say a motive hasn’t been determined. The ex-con left a rambling typewritten note saying he wanted to burn down the neighborhood and "do what I like doing best, killing people," police said Tuesday.
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, Conn., Pickering said.
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, Pickering said. He 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."
About 100 people attended an impromptu memorial vigil 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. Monday to put out the fire, Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.
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. The audio posted on the website RadioReference.com has someone reporting "firefighters are down" and saying "got to be rifle or shotgun - high powered ... semi or fully auto."
Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. 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," Pickering said.
A police armored 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.
Pickering described Chiapperini as a "lifetime firefighter" with nearly 20 years in the department, and he called Kaczowka a "tremendous young man."Next Page >
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