WEBSTER, N.Y. — The ex-con who lured two firefighters to their deaths in a blaze of gunfire left a rambling typewritten note saying he wanted to burn down the neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people,” police said Tuesday as they recovered burned human remains believed to be the gunman’s missing sister.
Police Chief Gerald Pickering said 62-year-old William Spengler, who served 17 years in prison for the 1980 hammer slaying of his grandmother, armed himself with a revolver, a shotgun and a military-style rifle before he set his house afire to lure first responders into a death trap before dawn on Christmas Eve.
“He was equipped to go to war, kill innocent people,” Pickering said.
The rifle he had was a military-style .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle with flash suppression, the same make and caliber weapon used in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Pickering said.
The chief said police believe the firefighters were hit with shots from the rifle given the distance but the investigation was incomplete.
Pickering declined to divulge the full content of the two- to three-page note left by Spengler or say where it was found, but read one line from it: “I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people.”
The human remains were found in the charred house that Spengler shared with his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl. A medical examiner will need to determine the identity and cause of death because the body is badly burned.
Spengler killed himself as seven houses burned around him Monday on a narrow spit of land along Lake Ontario in this suburb of Rochester. A friend said Spengler hated his sister but the chief said the note left by him did not give a motive.
No other bodies were found, and police late Tuesday said the on-scene investigation had been completed.
Two firefighters were shot dead in the ambush and two others are hospitalized in stable condition.
Spengler fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. Monday to put out the fire, Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.
Authorities said Spengler hadn’t done anything to bring himself to their attention since his parole. As a convicted felon, he wasn’t allowed to possess weapons. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said Spengler led a very quiet life after he got out of prison.
A friend, Roger Vercruysse, lived next door to Spengler and recalled a man who doted on his mother, whose obituary suggested contributions to the West Webster Fire Department.
“He loved his mama to death,” said Vercruysse, who last saw his friend about six months ago.
Vercruysse also said Spengler “couldn’t stand his sister” and “stayed on one side of the house and she stayed on the other.”
The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said.
Emergency radio communications capture someone saying he “could see the muzzle flash coming at me” as Spengler carried out his ambush. The audio posted on the website RadioReference.com has someone reporting “firefighters are down” and saying “got to be rifle or shotgun – high powered … semi or fully auto.”
Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. After Spengler fired, one of the wounded men fled, but the other three couldn’t because of flying gunfire.
The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler “in all likelihood saved many lives,” Pickering said.
The dead men were identified as police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department’s public information officer; and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher.
Pickering described Chiapperini as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years in the department, and he called Kaczowka a “tremendous young man.”
The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were in stable condition Tuesday at Strong Memorial Hospital, the chief said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.
Hofstetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee.
The shooting and fires were in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round homes set close together across the road from the lakeshore. The area is popular with recreational boaters but is normally quiet this time of year.