Volunteer firefighters responding to a house fire in the Rochester suburb of Webster early this morning were shot at by a lone gunman. Two of them, including one who also served as a police officer, were killed, and two were wounded. An off-duty police officer was also wounded by shrapnel when the gunman fired on his truck. After the shooting, dozens of nearby residents were evacuated, and the fire spread to other homes until the area was deemed safe for extinguishing efforts to continue.
Police believe that the fire, which spread to destroy seven homes, was likely set as a trap to draw the firefighters into an ambush. The gunman, identified as 62-year-old William Spengler, was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of his grandmother with a hammer in 1980. Spangler plead guilty to manslaughter (thanks to a plea bargain) and served 18 years in prison before being released in 1998. Spangler died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head after being confronted by police. His sister, whose last known residence was the home, has not yet been accounted for.
One of the wounded firefighters was shot in the shoulder, lung, and knee. The other was hit in the pelvis. Both were described as having “significant” injuries, but both are “awake” and “alert” and breathing on their own in intensive care, according to a hospital update.
The town’s fire marshal, Rob Boutillier, reflected on the novel horror of the situation. “I’m not aware of anything like this happening in Webster,” he said, “obviously not a firefighter being fired upon.”
On Twitter, Governor Cuomo offered his condolences. “We as the community of mourn their loss as now 2 more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones.”
As for Spangler’s motive, “we don’t have an exact reason why [he did it],” Pickering said in an afternoon press conference. “But just looking at the history, obviously this is a individual that has a lot of problems, to kill his grandmother some thirty odd years ago, and certainly there were mental health issues involved.” Pickering noted that, as a convicted felon, Spangler’s guns were possessed illegally.
This post has been updated throughout to reflect new information.