Monday, December 24, 2012

Two firefighters die in ambush at blazing NY house

A strange, sad and scary story is being reported this morning about a house fire and the murder of two responding firefighters in Webster, NY. 

A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two and ending up dead himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.

The gunman fired at the firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze near the Lake Ontario shore in Webster, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first Webster police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said.

‘‘It does appear it was a trap’’ for the first responders to the fire, Pickering said at a news conference.

No details have yet been reported on the murderer, other than the fact that he too is dead. But I'd be willing to bet he was a mental patient, probably one who had a history of going off his medications and who seems to have spiralled down into paranoia and total madness.

If my guess about the killer is correct, this is yet another example of the price we are paying in society for not dealing properly with the mentally ill. At the very least, we need to force those with severe psychoses into psychiatric treatment. In most cases, that does not require forced hospitalization. But we should not be sitting back and letting the deranged manage their own mental health care.

UPDATE: Reuters has in the last hour reported some details about the murderer, who they say took his own life after setting fire to a house and shooting the firefighters as they arrived on scene:

A gunman who spent 17 years in prison for murder ambushed and killed two volunteer firefighters and wounded two others on Monday near Rochester, New York, as they responded to a house fire he deliberately set, police said.

William Spangler, 62, shot and killed himself after a gunfight with a police officer in Webster, a Rochester suburb, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.
Spangler was convicted of manslaughter in 1981 for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer, according to New York State Department of Corrections records, and after prison he spent eight years on parole.

It's possible Spangler does not have schizophrenia. Perhaps he has psychopathy. But the fact that he beat his grandmother to death suggests he has been crazy for a long, long time. In a more rational world, he would have been put in a locked medical facility for the insane before he became so violent and delusional.

One other thing this case makes clear: It is still easy for people who should not have guns to get them, largely because no background checks are done on those who purchase weapons from private sellers.
Pickering said police had found several types of weapons, including a rifle used to shoot the firefighters. As a convicted felon it was illegal for Spangler to own guns.

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