WEBSTER, N.Y. -- The residents of Webster proved their resiliency Wednesday, taking small steps toward healing just days after a gunman rocked the community by killing two volunteer firefighters and torching seven homes along Irondequoit Bay.
Hundreds of supporters stood outside a village bar in the snow Wednesday night, gripping red cups with candles inside and singing "Amazing Grace" during a vigil for the two fallen firefighters, Mike Chiapperini, 43, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19.
The conditions of two injured firemen at Strong Memorial Hospital were upgraded on Wednesday, with their doctor noting they are both progressing.
And Lake Road residents returned to their homes, some for the first time, to survey the damage and prepare to rebuild.
"We gather here as a sign of support," said state Supreme Court Justice David Barry, who officiated the vigil in the village. "This is what represents this community. Not those who commit stupid, senseless acts of violence."
Police say William Spengler Jr. opened fire on first responders early Monday morning, killing two West Webster Fire Department volunteers and injuring two more. Police say he set the fire that destroyed seven homes along Irondequoit Bay to lure the firefighters to the scene. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"As long as one of us here remains on this Earth and was here on Christmas Eve, those that were lost and those that are injured remain with us and they walk with us every day," Barry said.
Joseph Hofstetter, 33, suffered a severe bullet wound to his pelvis. Theodore Scardino, 48, was shot twice, hit in the left shoulder and right knee.
Both were upgraded Wednesday from guarded to satisfactory condition.
"We wish to thank the community - and the nation - for the heartwarming response to Monday's tragic incident," Hofstetter and Scardino wrote in a statement issued by Strong Memorial Hospital. "We are humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes for us and our families."
Dr. Nicole Stassen said in a statement that both men are making small steps and are doing "as well as I would expect at this stage."
Earlier in the day, residents of Lake Road were allowed back into their homes to survey the physical damage and take stock of their neighborhood after Monday's events.
"It'll never be the same down here," said Jennifer Fordham, 42, of 217 Lake Road.
Fordham had heard predawn shots on Monday and thought it was a duck hunter. When she saw the fire, "it hit us that something was wrong."
The charred remains of the seven homes are sandwiched between houses that are slightly less damaged along Lake Road. Four mailboxes - 177, 185, 191 and 193 - stand on the edge of the road, though the houses they belonged to are gone.
On Wednesday, onlookers came by both on foot and by car. Traffic crawled past the burned houses. Several people were seen walking past and taking photos.
Some of Spengler's neighbors described being awoken early Monday morning by gunfire nearby, followed by the arrival of police SWAT team members who used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 residents.
Fordham did not know Spengler, but knew of his criminal history.
"They were quiet - kept to themselves. I wasn't surprised it was him because of his history, not because he was a problem."
Nick Marino, of 203 Lake Road, and Andrea Fiore, of 207 and 209 Lake Road, said Spengler seemed more or less ordinary.
"You wouldn't have known," said Fiore, whose houses were untouched in the fire. She described Spengler as a "hippie" and said she keeps thinking about a time he approached her son while he was mowing the lawn.
"He approached people and would talk to people," Fiore said. "Thank God he didn't snap while he was near my kid."
Marino bought his house a few months ago and was fixing it up to move in. The side of the house was heavily damaged, and much of its tan vinyl siding melted off. The interior appeared to be fine, but smelled like smoke, he said. He said he had spoken to Spengler a handful of times.
"He was just a calm guy," Marino said.
Robert Schroeder, 51, of 195 Lake Road, said he was "saddened by the loss" of the firefighters.
He walked past what was left of his two-story home and adjacent garage. A charred trailer and boat were parked nearby.
"There's not much left to pick through," Schroeder said.
The 15-year Lake Road resident was at his mother's house in Chili early Monday when a neighbor called to tell him the news.
"I didn't think it was happening to me," he said.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle