A gunman blasted shots through the wall of a Pennsylvania municipal building during a meeting on Monday and then barged into the meeting room and continued firing, killing three people, before he was tackled by a local official and shot with his own gun, a witness said.
The shooting, which injured at least two other people, happened shortly before 7:30 p.m. during Ross Township’s monthly meeting, Monroe County emergency management director Guy Miller said. The gunman, who appeared to be “shooting randomly,” was captured and was treated at a hospital, he said.
State police in Lehighton confirmed the three deaths and said the gunman, identified as 59-year-old Rockne Newell, had an ongoing dispute with township officials over the possible condemnation of his unkempt property. They said about 15 to 18 residents and town officials were at the meeting when the gunfire erupted.
The Pocono Record said one of its reporters was at the township building when a man armed with a long gun with a scope shot through a wall into the meeting, in a rural area of northeastern Pennsylvania about 85 miles north of Philadelphia.
Reporter Chris Reber, in a first-person account told to his editors Marta Gouger and Chris Mele, said it was his first Ross Township meeting.
“The thing that got my attention: plaster flying out, blowing out through the walls. Witnesses would later tell me they saw pictures exploding away from the walls,” he said. “I heard more than 10 shots.”
He said he crawled out to a hallway, exited the building and took cover behind a vehicle.
“The gunman was this guy wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt,” he said. “I saw him go back out to his car, a silver Impala, and get another gun.
“It wasn’t real to me until I went back inside and saw people bleeding.”
A local official at the meeting grabbed the shooter and subdued him, Reber said.
“(West End Open Space Commission executive director) Bernie Kozen bear-hugged the gunman and took him down,” Reber said. “He shot the shooter with his own gun.”
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.
Kozen’s wife, reached by telephone at their home Monday night, said he wasn’t there and she was unsure when he’d be back.
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. The township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations, according to meeting minutes posted online.
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 told the paper he was unemployed for years after an injury from a crash and had nowhere else to go. Newell was in police custody after being treated at the hospital Monday night and couldn’t be reached for comment, and there was no telephone number listed for his property.
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.