Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:59 PM
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 being 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 Jr., 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 neighborhood 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-caliber semiautomatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver. The rifle, which had a combat-style flash suppressor, is the same make and caliber 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. Hofstetter was hit in the pelvis, and Scardino was hit in the shoulder and knee.
A passing off-duty officer from the town of Greece was treated for shrapnel wounds from gunfire that hit his car.
Hearses carrying the coffins of Chiapperini and Kaczowka were escorted to West Webster Fire Station 1, where they were met by emergency vehicles with their lights flashing in salute.
Calling hours for the two men will be at Webster Schroeder High School on Friday and Saturday. A funeral for Chiapperini is scheduled for Sunday at the school, with burial in West Webster Cemetery.
A funeral Mass for Kaczowka, who worked as a Monroe County emergency dispatcher, will be held Monday in Rochester at St. Stanislaus Church, with burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
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