SAYLORSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A man who fatally shot a township official and two others during a municipal meeting in northeastern Pennsylvania was about to fire more rounds when he was wrestled to the ground, possibly preventing more bloodshed, authorities said Tuesday.
About 15 to 18 residents and town officials were at the meeting Monday night in Ross Township when the gunfire erupted, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
The gunman, 59-year-old Rockne Newell, who had been involved in a long-running dispute with the township over a dilapidated property, was tackled to the ground by two people and was shot with his own gun, authorities said. He was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to the leg and was arraigned Tuesday on homicide charges and other counts.
Newell was armed with a .44 Magnum handgun and was about to shoot six more people when a resident and a township official wrestled him to the ground, Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen said at a news conference. The two people who subdued him were identified as Parks and Recreation director Bernie Kozen and resident Mark Kresh, according to state police.
At the arraignment, a judge asked Newell if he owned any real estate and he responded: “They stole it from me. That’s what started all this.”
He is charged with three counts of homicide and two counts of attempted homicide.
The shooting happened during Ross Township’s monthly meeting, held a short drive from Newell’s property in the Pocono Mountains, about 85 miles north of Philadelphia.
Gerard J. Kozic, 53, and James V. LaGuardia, 64, both of Saylorsburg, were pronounced dead at the scene, Allen said. David Fleetwood, 62, who died after being flown to Lehigh Valley Medical Center, was a Chestnuthill Township supervisor who doubled as the Ross Township zoning officer, the coroner said.
A spokesman for Pocono Medical Center told the Pocono Record newspaper that Newell and two other people injured in the shooting were released from the hospital late Monday.
State police said Newell had a long-running dispute with township officials over the ramshackle, trash-filled property. He said he lived on Social Security and could not afford to clean it.
Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber said he was at the township building Monday night when a man armed with a long gun with a scope shot through a wall into the 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,” Reber said in his account told to his editors, Marta Gouger and Chris Mele.
Newell’s property includes an old camper in the front yard filled with wooden pallets, pieces of what appear to be old railroad ties and trash. A garage leans and appears close to collapse, and a propane tank sits inside an old dog house.
Township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations, according to meeting minutes posted online.
Last October, Newell set up a fundraising page online and was trying to raise $10,000 to pay for legal fees in his fight with the township.
“Ross township took me to court & the court ruled I have to vacate my home of 20 years,” he wrote on the page called saveRockyshome. “I live on SSI which comes to $600 a month I have no money to clean it up.”
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 sided with the township in August 2012 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.
Loviglio reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Keith Collins in Philadelphia and photographer Chris Post in Saylorsburg, Pa., contributed to this report.