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Body found in burned home of killer of 2 firemen

11:15 PM, Dec 25, 2012   |    comments
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Written by Victoria E. Freile, Democrat and Chronicle Staff writer

Investigators combing the scene of a Monday ambush that killed two firefighters and injured two others made a grisly discovery: another victim.

The body is believed to be that of Cheryl Spengler, 67, of Webster. Police say her brother, William Spengler Jr., set a deadly trap for first responders - a plan he detailed in a chilling note found at the scene.

Armed with a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle - the same weapon used in the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. - a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun and a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and a stockpile of ammunition, Spengler Jr. set a "clear ambush on first responders," Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said at a news conference on Christmas morning.

Spengler used that arsenal to follow through on threats he made in a typewritten note discovered not far from where police found his body.

"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," Spengler wrote in the note, which Pickering described as rambling, two to three pages long, and did not address motive. Spengler died Monday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The full note was not released by police.

"Motive is always the burning question," Pickering said at an afternoon news conference. "I'm not sure we'll ever really know what was going through his mind."

Spengler's attack killed volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini, 43, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, and severely injured firefighters Joseph Hofstetter, 33, and Theodore Scardino, 48, who are in stable condition at Strong Memorial Hospital. An off-duty Greece police officer, John Ritter, was injured by shrapnel while attempting to protect the fallen firefighters with his car. He was treated and has been released from an area hospital. Pickering described his actions as heroic.

The remains found at 191 Lake Road were taken to the Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy. The cause of death was not immediately known, Pickering said.

Roger Vercruysse of Rochester said he lived at 193 Lake Road, next door to William and Cheryl Spengler, in 2005 and 2006.

He said Spengler was "nice," and was never in trouble while Vercruysse knew him. But, he said, Spengler and his sister clearly had a strained relationship.

"They never got along. He told me he did not care for her. And when I asked him why, he got angry."

He loved his mother, and took her to the store and doctors."

Pickering said it was not known which weapon Spengler used to shoot the four firefighters.

"We're assuming it was the rifle, because of the distance." That rifle, he said, was equipped with a flash suppressor, intended to reduce the visibility of a shooter during firing.

Once police arrived near the scene, shortly after the 5:35 a.m. fire call, "it was a combat condition," Pickering said. "They were shooting at muzzle flash."

He also said it was not clear how many bullets were fired during the predawn attack. But what was clear, Pickering said, was that the first responding police officer exchanged gunfire with Spengler and that officer's actions "saved many lives."

Lake Road on Tuesday afternoon remained closed to traffic between Bay Road and the outlet bridge, though most residents are being allowed back into their homes, and power has been largely restored. The area between 169 and 213 Lake Road remained cordoned off entirely and is considered an active crime scene, Pickering said.

Officials said they hope to reopen Lake Road to traffic late Tuesday. They also plan to block off the burned homes with a snow fence.

About a dozen investigators Tuesday sifted through the debris of the seven houses destroyed by fire. Firefighters on Tuesday also extinguished hotspots at two homes.

Pickering cautioned that people returning to their homes after being evacuated by SWAT teams Monday may find that their doors were kicked in. Locked homes in the area were searched for the shooter during the chaos.

Monroe County Fire Coordinator Sam DeRosa said it was unclear how long the fire investigation would take.

DeRosa also said officials "are working against the weather" and a pending snowstorm.

Fire investigators are working to determine the cause and origin of the blaze, which they said appeared to be intentionally set by Spengler as a trap, he said.

"There were some brave actions by a lot of people yesterday, both firefighters and individual police officers," said State Police Maj. Mark Koss. "We'll do our best to see what motivated this guy to do the things he did."

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