“I still have to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down & do what I like doing best – killing people.”
– William Spengler’s suicide note
Somehow, William Spengler got his hands on several guns, including a Bushmaster .223, the same one used to slaughter a classroom of children in Newtown, Connecticut. On Christmas Eve, Spengler took up a combat position and shot four firefighters sniper-style as they responded to a fire he set as a trap.
Two firefighters died. Two were gravely wounded. Seven homes burned down. Seven more were damaged.
Spengler’s sister is missing. The remains of Spengler’s sister were found in their burned home.
This is an enormous tragedy. While some would prefer we not focus on Spengler, we have to look at what he did and how he did it to make sure this never happens again. He may have been a lone madman, but he’d killed before and was still able to obtain weapons.
Spengler, who did 17 years behind bars for bludgeoning his grandmother to death, led a quiet life since exiting prison in 1998. He was freed from parole supervision in 2006. Experts say you can’t predict who will be the next mass shooter. But this case is a little different because Spengler was already a killer. It’s easy to say he should never have been released, but we would need to see records examined by the parole board. For example, was Spengler diagnosed with a mental illness while in jail? Did the criminal justice system fail society by not properly monitoring him to make sure he took medication and received treatment?
Even if Spengler was a sick man, he could not have ambushed four men without guns. The Webster police chief said, as an ex-con, it was illegal for Spengler to have weapons. Did Spengler steal the guns? Did he buy them on the street? Did they belong to family members? Did he buy them in another state without as many restrictions?
The Webster police chief brought up the fact there have been a number of recent gun larcenies in the area. The one in Sodus is an example. ATF statistics show 74,000 guns were reported stolen by licensed firearms dealers in the U.S. between 2008-2010. New York dealers accounted for 3,666 stolen guns during that time.
Gun thefts from legal owners also play a big role in gun crimes. The ATF’s 2009 gun trace report for the Rochester region shows nearly half of crime guns were legally purchased in New York and took three years or more to end up as crime guns. The ATF considers two years or less to be a sign of illegal trafficking, indicating Rochester criminals are getting guns through other means, including stealing from houses, cars and family members. Firearm thefts and the lack of responsible gun ownership are reasons I believe we all bear responsibility for shootings. As the investigation unfolds, I hope police tell us how Spengler obtained his weapons.
I think we can have these discussions as we heal our broken hearts. None of us will ever forget the fresh young face of Tomasz Kaczowka, the steadied experience of Mike Chiapperini and Chief Pickering’s sobs as he read their names. The brave volunteer firefighters were wonderful men, the best of our community. What happened to them was unimaginably cruel and unfair. They deserve our love and respect. We all deserve answers.
Donations to the West Webster Fire Department can be made on their website. A link should be ready to accept pledges by the end of the day.