WEBSTER, New York — Two firefighters were shot and killed at the scene of a fire that engulfed multiple houses in upstate New York on Monday, police said.
During a news conference, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said the incident appeared planned.
“It does appear that it was a trap that was set for first responders,” he said. (Story continues after video.)
Two other firefighters were treated for gunshot wounds, police said. Authorities believe the shooter took aim at the firefighters after they left their vehicles.
The suspect in the shooting deaths is William Spengler, 62, who was convicted in 1981 of first-degree manslaughter for killing his grandmother, Chief Pickering said. Authorities do not know how Spengler, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, obtained the weapon he used in Monday’s shooting or why he opened fire, Pickering said.
“He was found dead outside in proximity to the home,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described it as a “horrific shooting” and a “senseless act of violence.”
“Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty,” he said in a statement.
At one point during the news conference, Chief Pickering became emotional. Fighting back tears he said it’s “very difficult.”
For hours, gunfire stopped firefighters from working to extinguish the flames and forced police SWAT teams to evacuate homes in the area.
Firefighters first arrived before 6 a.m., said Rob Boutillier, Webster’s fire marshal. By 9 a.m., flames had engulfed three houses and a vehicle, he said.
“It’s still an active crime scene,” Pickering said. “We have firefighters there at the location. It took a while to make it safe … to put out the fires.”
Doctors were treating the wounded firefighters Monday morning, said Teri D’Agostino, a spokeswoman for Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. They were in guarded condition, she said.
One firefighter escaped from the scene in his own vehicle about an hour after he was shot, then was taken to the hospital by an ambulance from another location, Boutillier said.
Another wounded firefighter was conscious and speaking when he was removed from the scene, Boutillier said.
The shooting comes amid a renewed debate over gun control in the United States after a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school earlier this month.
President Barack Obama has set a January deadline for “concrete proposals” to deal with gun violence.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The White House has said that the president supports that effort.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, the National Rifle Association’s president called for more guns in the wake of the mass shooting, proposing putting an armed guard in every U.S. school in order to protect children.
On Sunday, NRA President Wayne LaPierre told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would not express support for any new gun restrictions, saying most gun laws on the books are currently rarely enforced.
By Catherine E. Shoichet, Chuck Johnston, Jake Carpenter and John Fricke