This time, there was a note.
Before ex-con William Spengler, 62, opened fire on firefighters who had responded to a blaze at his home in Webster, N.Y., on Christmas Eve, killing two and seriously wounding two others, he’d typed a couple pages announcing his plans, police said.
“I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I do best: killing people,” Spengler wrote, police said Tuesday.
The previous morning, Spengler shattered the holiday calm with a shocking assault that officials found uncharacteristic of the 14 years he’d spent out of prison since killing his grandmother with a hammer in 1980.
Monday’s blaze — which officials think may have started as a vehicle fire — consumed seven homes and damaged two more in the sleepy lakeside community, a suburb of Rochester. Officials also said they’d found human remains at Spengler’s house that they suspect were his sister, Cheryl, 67.
Police think Spengler used a Bushmaster .223 rifle with a flash suppressor in his rampage. They recovered the weapon along with a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun. Officials weren’t sure how Spengler — a felon who was not allowed to own guns — had obtained his weapons, but said he was armed to the teeth.
“He was equipped to go to war and kill innocent people,” Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said at a televised news conference on Christmas Day. One of the men killed a day earlier was Mike Chiapperini, 43, a Webster police lieutenant as well as a volunteer firefighter.
In a time of contentious debate over whether assault weapons should be banned or tightly controlled in the United States, Spengler’s attack would mark the third time in two weeks that a shooter has attempted a mass killing with an assault rifle.
On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 grade-school students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., using a military-style Bushmaster .223 rifle. Lanza also killed his mother and himself. And on Dec. 11, Jacob Tyler Roberts opened fire in a Clackamas, Ore., mall with an AR-15-style rifle, killing two and wounding one before taking his own life.
Spengler, who also shot himself, is the only one of the three known to have left a note. Police characterized it as “rambling” and said he did not express a motive. They declined to release more excerpts Tuesday.
“Motive is always the burning question, and I’m not sure we’ll ever really know what was going through his mind,” Pickering said.
A friend of the gunman told the Los Angeles Times that Spengler hated his sister and loved his mother, who had lived with the pair until she died Oct. 7. The fire began next door to the home where Spengler had killed his 92-year-old grandmother, for which he served 18 years in prison; he was released in 1998.
Officials Tuesday described a chaotic “combat situation.” A Webster police officer used his duty rifle to trade fire with Spengler on Monday in morning darkness after the firefighters had been fired upon before getting out of their trucks, police said.
Rounds shattered the windshield of the firetruck that two of the firefighters were in; the wounded driver crashed it into a bank trying to get away.
“Had that police officer not been there, more people would have been killed, because he immediately engaged the shooter,” Pickering said of his officer.
Greece, N.Y., police officer Jon Ritter was driving behind the firetruck when he also came under fire. He was wounded by shrapnel from the bullets that struck his windshield and engine block, police said.
Ritter “tried to shelter some of the fallen firemen with his car when the other firefighters — that we later extracted from the location with the armored personnel carrier — had taken cover under the firetruck to try to escape further harm from the ongoing gunfire,” Pickering said.
The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, remained in the intensive care unit and were described as stable.
Officials said that 33 neighborhood residents had been displaced by the blaze and the investigation and that hotels had offered them places to stay.
“We all have been inundated from citizens, police agencies across the nation and really across the world, wanting to provide donations,” Pickering said, getting emotional.
“On a personal note, and speaking for my law enforcement associates and all my fire associates and all my EMS associates, I want to thank the community for tremendous outpouring. It has been incredible.”
Los Angeles Times