Residents in a town in the state of New York are marking Christmas with heavy hearts after two volunteer firefighters were shot and killed while responding to a blaze that officials say was set as a trap.
Officials say a 62-year-old ex-convict, William Spengler, set his house and car on fire early Monday to lure emergency responders to the scene. Emergency communications from the scene indicate that once the firefighters arrived, they were met with a hail of bullets.
Forty-three-year-old Michael Chiapperini and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka died at the scene. Two other volunteer firefighters who were shot were rescued with the help of an armored personnel carrier and taken to an area hospital.
More than 30 nearby residents were also evacuated from the area while crews tried to fight the fire.
Officials say a police officer responding to the scene exchanged gunfire with Spengler, who apparently killed himself.
Spengler served 17 years in prison after being convicted for the beating death of his 92-year-old grandmother. Officials say he shared the house with his sister, who is still missing.
Officials say the fire spread quickly, burning seven houses in all. They say it is unclear if there are additional victims.
Residents of the town gathered at a local firehouse on Christmas Eve to pay tribute to the dead firefighters. The Associated Press reported a fire department spokesman thanked participants and then asked them to go home and spend the holiday with their families.
The deadly shooting in New York state was just one of several that made national headlines Monday.
A police officer in Houston, Texas was shot and killed in a shootout early Monday and a police officer in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was found dead Monday. Officials say she had been shot several times.
The rash of shootings slightly more than a week after 20 children and six teachers were killed in Connecticut jolted the nation as many were preparing to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Monday calling the shooting in Webster “horrific,” saying “We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones.”
Officials in New York are still trying to determine why Spengler decided to ambush the volunteer firefighters. Some neighbors have said Spengler did not get along with his sister and that ongoing strife with her might have helped set him off.
As a convicted felon, Spengler was not allowed to own firearms.
The Connecticut shooting had already sparked an intense national debate over laws to regulate guns and an examination of the U.S. approach to mental health issues. Some gun-control advocates say Monday's shootings give the issue added urgency.