NBC10 - Deanna Durante
Police say a real estate battle between Ross Township and Rockne Newell had been going on for at least 9 years. NBC10's Deanna Durante obtained a search warrant with details of a 911 call from a woman who said a man walked into the municipal building screaming his property was stolen.
A man feuding with officials in his rural Pennsylvania town over living conditions at his ramshackle, trash-filled property killed three people at a municipal meeting -- including at least one town official -- in a rampage that blew holes through the walls and sent people crawling for cover, police said.
"The gunshots were fairly random," said State Police Lt, Col. George Bivens.
A witness says the gunman was tackled by a local official and another man and shot with his own gun before being taken into custody. Authorities initially said that four people died during a press conference but revised the total down to three. Four others, including the shooter were hurt.
David Fleetwood, Gerard Kozic and James Laguardia died from the shooting, according to a criminal complaint obtained by NBC10 as accused shooter Rockne Newell was arraigned on homicide and assault charges.
Kozic's wife, Linda Kozic, was seriously injured and planning commission member Frank Piraino, Jr. suffered a graze wound to the head, according to police. A third person, county chairman Howard Beers injured his hand -- it wasn't clear if he was shot or hurt in another way.
The shooting began shortly before 7:20 p.m. during Ross Township's regular monthly meeting at the township building on Anchorage Road in Saylorsburg, Pa., Monroe County emergency management director Guy Miller said.
Police say the gunman, identified as Newell, approached the Poconos-area building armed with a long gun and opened fire through the windows of the building. As he continued to advance, police say Newell, 59, walked inside the building where 15 to 18 members of the township supervisor council as well as attendees were inside.
As he was being transported to the hospital, Newell gave the unsolicited statement, "I wish I killed more of them," according to court papers.
He fired more than two dozen shots from three different spots with his rifle before grabbing a handgun.
The Pocono Record said one of its reporters was in the township building as Newell shot through a wall into the meeting.
The reporter, Chris Reber, told the newspaper that all he saw were holes go through the wall, with smoke and plaster blowing out. He said he heard automatic gunfire.
"I ran out after the first round of shooting. I dropped to the floor. That's what everyone did. ... Then it stopped and I crawled out the side door,'' Reber recounted to the newspaper. "I was the only person who crawled out. Everyone got behind a table. Some of the supervisors were over on the side throwing up.''
Reber said a woman opened a door to the meeting room "and he (the shooter) was standing there. A man pushed her aside and was shot. People were shot inside the room.''
Police say Newell continued to fire his long gun as he made his way through. He then allegedly left the building and returned to the parking lot where he retrieved a hand gun and began shooting again as he came back into the building.
That's when two people intervened, according to police.
"(West End Open Space Commission executive director) Bernie Kozen was there tending to the man and he (the shooter) didn't see them,'' Reber said. "Bernie bearhugged him and took him down. He shot (the shooter) with his own gun.''
Police said that Mark Kresh was the other man who jumped in to help.
Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents the state's 17th District, said he was "stunned and appalled at the atrocities that claimed the lives of innocent citizens in Ross Township.'' He said he had heard about what Kozen did to prevent more bloodshed.
"Mr. Kozen is a true hero tonight,'' Cartwright said in an emailed statement..
According to court papers, Newell screamed as he was held down.
Police say Newell was struck in the leg while he was being restrained. He was taken to a local hospital where he was treated before being taken to county prison. Authorities could be seen searching his property Tuesday morning. At a press conference, officers said fear of possible booby traps delayed the process.
They also searched a rented car that Newell drove to the scene. Inside, investigators found dozens of rounds of ammunition.
Newell had been in a long-running dispute with township officials over the dilapidated condition of his property, located a short drive from where the shooting occurred, state police Capt. Edward Hoke said.
NBC10 drove by Newell's Flyte Street property to find it rundown, covered with junk.
The township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations.
In June, the Pocono Record wrote a story about what it said was an 18-year fight between the township and Newell over his property.
Monroe County Court in August 2012 sided with the township and ordered Newell to vacate and never again occupy or use the property unless he had the permits to do so. The report said Newell had been living out of a car, a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, and in abandoned buildings since being ordered to vacate.
Newell referenced the ongoing dispute on his Facebook page.
"Ross township took me to court & the court ruled that I have to vacate my home of 20 years & remove the bridge that FEMA gave me $5000 to put in as well as clean up my land.
"I live on SSI which comes to $600 a month I have no money to clean up & it is insane to make me remove a bridge that FEMA gave the money to put in! I have no place to go I need a Lawyer but have no money!"
Newell told the paper he was unemployed for years after an injury from a crash and had nowhere else to go.
Just last week the property was officially condemned.
Since Newell was in police custody he couldn't be reached for comment, and there was no telephone number listed for his property. He has no children, according to police.
According to police, Newell's home was not one of the topics discussed during Monday's meeting. They also have not yet revealed whether he knew any of the victims personally.
Ross Township has about 5,500 residents. According to its website, the board of supervisors meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. It is located about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.