Ottawa Citizen

Wounded fire­fight­ers grate­ful for sup­port

Fu­ner­als planned for two dead in New York state as two oth­ers shot in am­bush re­cover in hospi­tal

- GE­ORGE M. WALSH

Two fire­fight­ers wounded by a gun­man who set his up­state New York house ablaze and killed two of their col­leagues in an am­bush with weapons he wasn’t al­lowed to own were on the mend Wed­nes­day and said they were thank­ful for the sup­port they’ve re­ceived.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors, mean­while, traced the gun­man’s weapons and tried to con­firm a body found in his de­stroyed house was his sis­ter’s.

West Web­ster vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers Joseph Hof­stet­ter and Theodore Scardino, who had been in guarded con­di­tion, were up­graded to sat­is­fac­tory con­di­tion on Wed­nes­day at Rochester’s Strong Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal, which re­leased a state­ment from them say­ing they were “hum­bled and a bit over­whelmed by the out­pour­ing of well wishes for us and our fam­i­lies.”

The fire­fight­ers said their “thoughts and prayers” were with the fam­i­lies of col­leagues Michael Chi­ap­perini and To­masz Kac­zowka, killed by Wil­liam Spen­gler, a con­victed felon barred from hav­ing guns.

Fu­ner­als are set for the next few days for Chi­ap­perini and Kac­zowka.

Au­thor­i­ties said Spen­gler set a car on fire and touched off an “in­ferno” in his Web­ster home on a strip of land along the Lake On­tario shore, took up a sniper’s po­si­tion and opened fire on the first fire­fight­ers to ar­rive at about 5:30 a.m. on Christ­mas Eve.

Spen­gler, 62, traded ri­fle fire with a Web­ster po­lice of­fi­cer who had ac­com­pa­nied the fire­fight­ers and then killed him­self with a gun­shot to the head.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found a ram­bling, two- to three-page typed let­ter lay­ing out Spen­gler’s in­ten­tion to de­stroy his neigh­bour­hood and “do what I like do­ing best, killing peo­ple.”

They be­lieve re­mains found in the burned home are those of Cheryl Spen­gler, but that hadn’t been con­firmed, and it was un­known how she died.

The Spen­gler sib­lings had lived in the home with their mother, Ar­line Spen­gler, who died in Oc­to­ber. In all, seven houses were de­stroyed by the flames.

There also was no word from au­thor­i­ties about how Wil­liam Spen­gler, who served time for his grand­mother’s beat­ing death, got three guns found with his body: a mil­i­tary-style Bush­mas­ter .223-cal­i­bre semi-au­to­matic ri­fle, a 12-gauge shot­gun and a .38-cal­i­bre re­volver.

The ri­fle, which had a com­bat-style flash sup­pres­sor, is the same make and cal­i­bre as one used by a gun­man to mas­sacre 20 chil­dren and six women at a New­town, Conn., ele­men­tary school ear­lier this month.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties con­firmed Wed­nes­day they had traced the sale of the weapons, but they didn’t re­lease de­tails.

Spen­gler spent 17 years in prison for beat­ing his pa­ter­nal grand­mother to death with a ham­mer in 1980. He had been re­leased from pa­role on the manslaugh­ter con­vic­tion in 2006, and au­thor­i­ties said they had had no en­coun­ters with him since.

Po­lice Chief Ger­ald Pick­er­ing said in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Spen­gler used the ri­fle to at­tack the fire­fight­ers be­cause of the dis­tance in­volved. He said po­lice may never know Spen­gler’s mo­tive.

Chi­ap­perini, who also was a po­lice lieu­tenant, was driv­ing a pumper with Scardino on board when bul­lets blasted the wind­shield. He and Kac­zowka died at the scene.

A pass­ing off-duty of­fi­cer from the town of Greece was treated for shrap­nel wounds from gun­fire that hit his car.

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