By GEORGE M. WALSH
The gunman who lured two firefighters to their deaths died of a self-inflicted shot to the head and wasn’t hit by return fire from a police officer, New York State Police said Thursday.
But investigators still hadn’t made a positive identification of the body found in William Spengler’s burned house. They have said they believe the remains are those of his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, who also lived in the house near Rochester.
Autopsies showed that West Webster volunteer firefighter Michael Chiapperini died of a single gunshot and Tomasz Kaczowka was killed by two, police 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, authorities said. He wounded two other firefighters and an off-duty police officer who was on his way to work.
A Webster police officer who had accompanied the firefighters shot back at Spengler with a rifle in a brief exchange of gunfire before the gunman killed himself.
Trooper Mark O’Donnell said investigators weren’t releasing information about how Spengler got the military-style Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and .38-caliber revolver found with his body. He said they’re still tracing the history of the guns. Spengler spent 17 years in prison for killing his grandmother in 1980 and was barred from possessing weapons as a convicted felon.
Police have said they believe Spengler used the rifle to attack the firefighters because of the distances involved, but O’Donnell said that hadn’t been confirmed by ballistics tests. The rifle, which had a combat-style flash suppressor, is similar to the one used by the gunman who massacred 20 children and six women in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school earlier this month.
The wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were upgraded Wednesday to satisfactory condition at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
The hospital 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 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.
Investigators found a rambling, typed letter laying out Spengler’s intention to destroy his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people.”
He had been released from parole in 2006 on the manslaughter conviction and authorities said they had had no encounters with him since.
Police Chief Gerald Pickering 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 shot in the shoulder and knee.
The passing off-duty officer from the neighboring town of Greece was treated for shrapnel wounds from gunfire that hit his car.
Calling hours for Chiapperini and Kaczowka 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.