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“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

William SpenglerSomehow, 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.

393035_10151393021211081_1265146095_nI 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.

Democrat & Chronicle front page

23 Responses to Mourn. Honor. Ask.

  1. Could he have purchased the guns at a gun show?

    • December 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Not with his record.

      • He could have obtained the rifles by buying from a individual seller. There’s no background check required in NY if you’re not buying from an ATF licensed seller. He could have connected via classified ads, web forums, or by finding a seller at a gun show. Often, individuals with guns for sale will find and meet up with buyers at gun shows and make the sale in the parking lot.

        In fact, if you are an individual trying to sell one of your own rifles to another person, there is no way for you to check if they are eligible to buy a firearm.

        The handgun is a different story, as there is no way to transfer one legally in NYS without having the serial numbers and transaction recorded. At Monroe County gun shows, the County Clerk has people there to add handguns to permits and record handgun transactions.

  2. December 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm Lellingw responds:

    What happened was terrible. I feel bad for his sister. She seemed to get the short shift. Can you imagine having to live with someone who could kill you or another family member at any minute? And had killed the grandmother.

  3. Rachel,
    Thanks for the report. I’m beginning to believe that what we need are tougher penal laws as well as penalty’s for individuals that steal, misuse,possess weapons that they have no right having. I’m talking about serious penalty’s that even a well paid, don’t care about the outcome attorney can weasel out of. It may be time to reconsider the death penalty for someone like Spengler, who did 17 years behind bars for bludgeoning his grandmother to death! We paid for him for 17 years. That alone is a good case for the death penalty and it should not take another 20 years to execute. As far as the statement made “Did the criminal justice system fail society by not properly monitoring him to make sure he took medication and received treatment”? Again, why should society be catering to him and spending more money on him in the first place? He should not even existed after what he did to his grandmother! I do think we need tougher gun laws but, not in the case of law abiding citizens but for the people that misuse the laws and rights that we have. This nation has gone crazy and we need to have stiffer laws and fast acting penalty’s and lawyers that care about right from wrong instead of lining their pockets.
    Thanks for listing to my ramble. This incident really hit hard and put the icing on the cake.

    • December 26, 2012 at 9:12 am Kathleen Marchaesi responds:

      Rich: I agree 100% with your thoughts. And it’s not rambling…If we don’t express our views NOTHING will ever happen to change the dysfunction we have in our existing system.

  4. December 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm Mark Powers responds:

    I thought there weren’t any background checks at gun shows.

  5. My thoughts….once you kill someone viciously and with intent, you have crossed that line. You have nothing to prevent you from killing again. This man killed his grandmother with a hammer. He should NEVER have been allowed out in society again….period. You asked did the criminal justice system fail society. The answer is YES. The facts cannot be denied. There are now numerous good people effected forever by the gutless decisions of the liberal-minded do-gooders who serve on parole boards and those that influence the legislators to pass laws that let these murderers be released.

  6. December 26, 2012 at 8:29 am Ginny Maier responds:

    Well written, Rachel. What a terrible tragedy.

    I for one am much more willing to ask that we give up the “freedom” to own an assault weapon that has the single purpose of killing and injuring large numbers of people efficiently than I am to lock people who have a very small risk of reoffending away for life as a precaution.

  7. What I would like to see is better reporting on the criminal justice system.

    So many times we are told he “could receive” or he got 25 yrs to life. Then, as in this case he served 17 years and 6 years probation. … Thats a long way from close to “life”.

    I am in favor of truth in sentencing. Tell us what the exact prison term will be at the absolute minimum and then they should stay in prison for at least that long.

    25yrs to life, LOGICALLY, should mean he at least served … IN PRISON… 25yrs. That never happens and is never truthfully reported.

    What is the real sentence? Once that is known and reported the Judges and legal system won’t be able to get away with that scam.

    And there was a guy who recently got convicted of taking pictures of his nude drunk niece, under 18yrs old and I believe he got 30yrs. He got 30yrs for that.. all be it horrendous act but — killing your grandmother with a hammer only gets you 17yrs?

  8. The lawmakers will feel good passing gun control on buzz word named guns, but this incident shows the failure of our society. As another poster said, manslaughter and he gets 25 to life and is out in 17? I could get more time for a killing someone in a dwi crash or selling drugs. Sentancing and the criminal justice system needs to be examined closely. The man killed his grandmother with a hammer. I don’t buy crime of passion, unless he was in the middle of hanging a picture and hit her once. I doubt that’s the case. That was the up close and personal killing of an old women. That is an indication this man is a predator, an inhuman monster. How we thought we can let people like him out on the street again is beyond me. Id rather pay for killers like that to be locked up, then risk them on the street. They are like wolves kept as pets, yea they seem tame but a killer lurks beneath the surface and can easily come out.

    Next we need to examine current gun laws on the books and beef up enforcement and close loopholes. The laws failed, more won’t help. We need to fix them. The gun store that was robbed, how were the firearms secured? We need laws on secure firearm storage, especially for stores.

    This is a horrible tragedy, unless we do something significant this will happen again. If we let Albany make garbage feel good, do nothing, get me re-elected laws like every other time something like this happens well be cursed to repeat history.

  9. I feel the same rage as these posters… But I also know it is easy to armchair quarterback a court decision. We weren’t there. He was given due process, and got 17 years… Even if he had 30 years, this could have still been the outcome, sadly.

    Then you have the costs of incarceration to consider. What really is the root cause here?

  10. December 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    If he bludgeoned his grandmother to death with a hammer, then he should have been given a life sentence.

  11. I don’t arm chair quarterback. 17 yrs for killing your grandmother with a hammer … repeatedly 35+ times in the head? How many murder’s do we have in prison who killed their grandmother? I mean how bad could she be?

    “Then you have the costs of incarceration to consider. ”

    We do? Our Money matters little to our PREZ or his wife flys to or from Hawaii in separate jumbo jets with separate support planes as well. If we could just get Michelle and the girls to travel in the PREZ jet and come and go when he does that would have saved us MILLIONS. So we don’t have enough money to keep this Criminal in Jail but we do have enough for Michelle Obama to travel in her own jet a few days later after the PREZ for VACATION… again for VACATION?

    Its not we don’t have the money, its where and how they spend it.

  12. I have avoided posting about the gun debate so far but since I worked with Joe, one of the WOUNDED firefighters, (not injured, wounded as this was an attack, a term I push for use of by the RFD for injuries sustained while firefighting vs say inspecting a building and twisting your knee which is an injury) and was fortunate enough to be his supervisor on many occasions. I am also a combat veteran of the Marine Corps.
    I see 2 things happening; the giddiness of the media and various politicians at the ‘we finally got them, those NRA bastards’ while completely ignoring the lack of leadership they all have shown regarding mental health care, the criminal justice system, support for 1st responders (remember how we were overpaid union thugs in Nov.?).
    The other thing is the absolute lack of knowledge about weapons that is displayed as fact by so many uninformed people in positions of gov’t, the media, etc. Something as simple as the Webster Police Chief pointing out that the rifle had a ‘flash hider’ is an example. A ‘flash hider’ is slang for any device attached to the end or a rifle barrel. NY not only prohibits devices labeled as flash hiders, but has mislabeled them since 1994. The device on the end of 99% of AR’s is a compensator, designed to keep the barrel from elevating after each shot, it does nothing to hide the flash. As I said, that is a term that carried over from weapons of the 50’s-60’s and is slang. True flash hiders are also designed to hide the flash from the shooters eyes, but the general public assumes they make the muzzle blast harder to see by people at the receiving end. But ‘flash hider’ is listed as a banned feature in the assault weapons ban and is a great word to use to scare the uninformed. Devices legal for sale in NY have things that perform the exact same thing as a military compensator but are titled ‘muzzle brake’ to make those uninformed masses happy even though a muzzle brake and compensator are the exact same thing, just with different labels on the bag.
    Then to hear people like Bob Smith on WXXI repeat continuously that ‘these weapons can be easily modified to fire full auto’ (when that is a crock of crap) or to state that a 30 round magazine is more dangerous that 3 10 round ones…. but the sheep of America just take everything said by the media as gospel because they are lazy. Today Mr. Smith said repeatedly that there has been no cases of firefighters being shot at since the LA riots of 1968(?) and Mr. Wicks (of Smugtown Beacon fame, and a guest ‘expert’ of some sort who never was a firefighter but a volunteer Protective in the CIty) agreed.
    WHAT? If the smallest bit of research was done it would be shown that firefighters are shot at rather often, as recently as a couple of months ago from my casual reading of fire service related websites. And just looking at LA, in the riots of 1993 a firefighter was shot in the face while tillering a ladder truck; that’s 25 years after Mr. Smith’s guesstimate. But 99% of those listening to Dr. Smith will take his word as gospel, just like the ones who claim there is no ‘legitimate’ reason to own an AR….. or a pistol…. or say a Corvette or Hummer?
    These people are pushing an agenda, disguised as news reporting you fools.
    The question no person creaming for gun restrictions has been able to answer when I ask is ‘how many bullets per gun/magazine is acceptable? How did you reach that number? And what data do you have to back it up? 10 is legal in NY….. but shotguns for hunting are limited to 5…… unless they are for home dense only and can hold 8….. then there are double barrel shotguns that hold only 2 shells but can fire them at the same time sending dozens of pellets (each bigger than an .22cal AR round) at a target at the same time….. and there are .22 call lever action (re: Cowboy) rifles that hold 15+ rounds…. not to mention that anyone with duct tape can take 10 round AR mags and tape them together to have 30 rounds ready to go.
    But instead it is easier to let the ‘informed’ and the ‘experts’ tell you all how to think. Do you know how many times I’ve had rocks smash into firetrucks I’ve been on in the city? You think we are ‘heros’? No, we are looked on as one step above the cops. In fact I was in charge of Joe Hoffstetter and his guys at Engine 10 on Dewey Ave when the 2 day old fire engine had it’s windshield smashed by a rock as we were pulling away from a medical call on Avis St.
    My feelings about this incident in Webster, the one in Conn., the other ones around the nation are based on my actual experience, but none of the sheep in this country want to hear from people who actually know what goes on as the truth really is scary, and not because the chances of the average American being caught in an event like those is great, but because they might have to face the fact that the people expected to lead us or guide us aren’t really interested in what’s best for everyone, but only for their small, crooked self-interests. Shame on all of you who want to make this about anything other than bad parenting, a lame criminal justice system, pathetic politicians and a lazy media.

  13. Thank you, Justaguy – for the job you do, and for your informed comments.

    I’d like to add one thing, and that is that evil exists; even if all the ills you mention were eradicated, that fact remains. It should be eradicated when possible. Spengler never should have walked. He should have been eliminated as soon as possible after his guilt in the murder of his grandmother was determined.

  14. Chey, I agree. Crazy is crazy and even the Secret Service says that if a lone, determined assassin really wanted to take out the President and was willing to let nothing stand in their way they could not stop them. I am not an NRA member nor is any other firearm owner I know and I know a lot. But as I said, the talking heads have the lazy citizenry convinced that the NRA is THE gun authority in the US and therefore MUST speak for the majority of owners just like lazy Americans have convinced themselves that our politicians are always working for the best interest of the people when there are blatantly clear examples of them working for self gain only. “I can do more for Rochester in Albany” comes to mind as an example that was just accepted and not questioned.
    When I was hired by RFD we drove right into the scenes of shootings to treat victims because ‘nobody wants to hurt firemen’. There were times we would have the patient in the ambulance before more than 1-2 police officers arrived. Now the RFD stages blocks away as the patients bleed while police secure the area, no matter how long that takes. It is part of the post-9/11 way of life that we have let ourselves accept instead of demanding our own citizens live up to our own ideals. Put your headphones in and ignore everyone around you but then act surprised when things go wrong. Demand your public employees live up to that mythical standard of citizenship 24/7 while constantly demeaning them for the salary they receive (from an elected official who agreed to it let’s not forget) but them make excuses for outrageous conduct by our elected officials because their view suits your political causes. I say it all of the time that the two worst things in life are cowards and liars. Hypocrites are both and that makes them the worst of the worst.

  15. December 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm phantomlord responds:

    I have a problem with the notion that \”he could not have ambushed four men without guns.\” Given the recent school shooting that many presumptively assumed was the worst school massacre in the history of the US, I would imagine the case of Andrew Kehoe would have come to light. Kehoe conducted his murder, not with guns, but explosives. So, if Spengler didn\’t have guns and his modus operandi was luring firefighters to a burning house to ambush them, could he not have prepared explosives or other deadly traps (such as sawing through floor joists so that firefighters entering to search for people would have the floor collapse under their weight)? Dynamite may not be as easily available today, but there are PLENTY of things that you can go buy right now to make a bomb with very little knowledge and absolutely no way to determine what you\’re up to prior to doing it.

    There are people with an anti-gun agenda, most of whom are flat out ignorant of firearms and because of that ignorance are blindly scared of them, whom want to focus only on the gun. That\’s like saying we should blame the car, not the drunk driver behind the wheel when they kill someone. The question should be why, as a society, do we allow such people to be on the street in the first place? I\’ve both used guns in self defense (I didn\’t even have to aim, but less fire) and I\’ve had cousins murdered with guns… the guns are just a tool, it\’s the person holding them that decides how to use them. Disarming law abiding citizens won\’t prevent nuts from killing others, they\’ll just shift to another tool.

    If they were killed with another method, would their friends and family have suffered any less? In the big picture, I think the victims have been lost in these stories (and the families further victimized by a ravenous media) in an effort to push a political agenda and to drive ratings (ie, make money).

  16. December 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm phantomlord responds:

    oh and if we all bear responsibility for the actions of one depraved man, do all journalists bear responsibility for David Gregory breaking the law? Should all doctors take responsibility for the one that helped us locate Osama bin Laden. Now doctors giving polio vaccines ARE being targeted, is that proper?

    At what point do we simply say that individuals are responsible for their own actions and all of society shouldn\’t be punished for them? Shall we implement a totally locked down police state in order to keep people from harming each other? How did the Stanford Prison Experiment work out (to say nothing of truly unchecked police states)? At what point do we trade away essential freedom for temporary security?

  17. December 29, 2012 at 9:28 am Hahvahd St responds:

    Systemic failure gun control isn\’t the answer blablabla…He didn\’t throw a bunch of knives at these firefighters!!!! He used a KILLING TOOL! A gun!! Cars may kill people but they are not MADE TO KILL! HOLY BLEEP what needs to happen now to get the gun nuts off their stance!! How tiny is your pecker that you need a motherBLEEPIN AR-15!!! If only those firefighters had gone to do their job with F-ing Apache helicopters in tow! Can I get a drone to fly over my head at all times so I\’ll be safe?

  18. Hahvahd, why don\’t you answer the questions I posed and give us your logic based reasoning for them instead of coming off as a juvenile with a keyboard?
    How many rounds of capacity is acceptable per firearm according to you? How did you reach that number and what logic was used to get to it?
    Or do you want to ban all guns? If so, just admit it and then work to achieve it. Or work to achieve whatever phony limits you want in place like the current NY ASW ban does (based on the looks of the weapon only, not any functions of the weapon).
    What experience do you have with an AR or similar \’assault style\’ rifle? What experience with guns do you have at all?
    As I said about Corvettes and Hummers, people can come up with reasons to ban anything (trans fats or Big Gulps maybe?). Perhaps you would like to list the inventory of everything that you legally own so that we can decide what you own to make up for your lack of….. gun envy? ANd then we can begin to restrict your list of positions \’for the common good\’.
    Answer the questions, have a debate, step up and show you\’re capable of being an adult. Or shut up and let the law abiding, adult citizens continue to live their law abiding lives.
    I\’d say I will be waiting for your informed reply but I don;t expect to see one.

    • Apparently there is an issue with the text encoding…. sorry for all of the backslashes and incorrectly autocorrected words. It all looked OK before I hit Post Comment.

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