WEBSTER, N.Y. — A former convict gunned down two volunteer firefighters after luring them to his neighborhood by setting a car and a house ablaze early Monday, then took shots at police and committed suicide while several homes burned.
Authorities used an armored vehicle to help residents flee dozens of homes in Webster, 12 miles northeast of Rochester. Police restricted access to the neighborhood, and officials said it was unclear whether there were bodies in seven houses left to burn. The gunman's sister, who lived with him, was unaccounted for.
The gunman was identified as William Spengler. 62. His motive was unknown, police said.
He fired at the four firefighters when they arrived at the blaze shortly after 5:30 a.m., police Chief Gerald Pickering said. Spengler lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters' arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.
"It does appear it was a trap," he said.
Spengler had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old paternal grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980 at the house next to where Monday's attack happened, Pickering said.
Spengler was paroled in 1998 and had led a quiet life since, authorities said. Convicted felons are not allowed to have weapons.
Two firefighters, one of whom also was a town police lieutenant, died at the scene, and two others were hospitalized.
The first officer who arrived exchanged shots with the gunman. An off-duty officer who was passing by was injured.
The officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler "in all likelihood saved many lives," Pickering said.
Spengler lived in the house with his sister, Cheryl Spengler. His mother, Arline Spengler, had lived in the house until she died in October, authorities said.
He had originally been charged with murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler's death but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.
A friend of Spengler's, Roger Vercruysse, said Spengler didn't seem violent but hated his sister.
"He loved his mama to death," said Vercruysse, who last saw his friend about six months ago. "I think after his mama passed, he went crazy."
The men killed were Michael J. Chiapperini, 43, a police lieutenant who owned a window-tinting business, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, a 911 dispatcher.