Four firefighters shot, two killed after responding to house fire in Webster, NY
The Webster firefighters who responded to a structure fire in Lake Road early this morning found themselves fired upon by an as-yet-unknown assailant. By the time police secured the scene, two firefighters were dead and two others were hospitalized with gunshot wounds and three structures and a vehicle were engulfed in flames.
The police say they are no longer looking for an active shooter and as of 10:00 am, the uninjured Webster firefighters were attempting to control the flames.
UPDATE (12:00 pm): Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, who teared up during the press conference, told reporters that two firefighters responded to the call on the engine and two responded in their personal vehicles. One managed to flee the firefight on his own, but the other three were pinned down and two were rescued by SWAT. Firefighters Tomasz Kaczowka and Michael Chiapperini (also a lieutenant with the Webster police department) were found dead at the scene, Theodore Scardino was shot and was in surgery at the time of the press conference and Joseph Hofsetter was injured. An off-duty police officer who was driving by at the time of the fire received shrapnel injuries and required treatment. SWAT evacuated 33 residents. Four homes were fully engulfed and firefighters were still fighting the fire as of noon, and four additional houses sustained damage. The shooter is believed to be deceased at the scene but is unidentified at this time. “It does appear that it was a trap that was set for responding first responders,” Pickering said. The shooter died from a gunshot wound “but we don’t know whether it was self-inflicted or not,” he added. Police don’t know if there are victims inside the homes destroyed by fire, but Pickering said that they were occupied and there were reverse 911 calls made to advise people to shelter in place during the firefight.
UPDATE (12:11 am): The off-duty police officer injured by shrapnel at the scene was Greece, NY police officer John Ritter, according to WHEC.com.
UPDATE (12:30 am): The trauma surgeon in charge of the cases, Dr. Nicole Staffen, said in a press conference that both firefighters have significant injuries but are awake and off ventilators. Scardino reportedly sustained two wounds: one to the left shoulder, which also injured his lung and could worsen over the next few days; and one to his right knee. Hofsetter received one shot to his pelvis, which shattered the bones, injured his nerves, and penetrated the abdominal cavity but which appears to have missed his intestines. Both men are expected to need months of rehab for the bone injuries.
UPDATE (2:30 pm): Webster Police Chief Charles Pickering says the suspect in the case is William Spengler (62), the owner of the house at which the fire was first reported. Spengler was arrested in 1980 and convicted of manslaughter in 1981 in the death of his grandmother, who had lived next door. WHEC NBC 10 reported earlier today that Spengler was released on parole in 1998 and ended his parole in 2006. He was found dead around 11:00 am ET. Pickering noted that, as a convicted felon, Spengler would not have legally been able to buy a gun. He said that Spengler had fired at first responders from a “berm” near the home, and his sister (who lived at the house) remains unaccounted for at the time of the press conference. Seven houses were destroyed by the fire, which they suspect Spengler set but which a neighbor may have reported. The believe the off-duty police officer, Lt. Michael Chiapperini, returned fire by that Spengler died of a self-inflicted wound. The off-duty Greece police officer who came upon the scene, John Ritter, was injured by shrapnel after Spengler fired on his truck. “We have to get a handle on mental health issues,” said Pickering at the press conference.
Watch a report from WHEC NBC 10 in Rochester:
Watch video of the fire burning at dawn, courtesy of the AP:
Watch video of Chief Pickering’s first press conference, courtesy of MSNBC below:
Watch video of the hospital’s press conference, courtesy of WHEC 10 below: