Criminal Justice

Gunman fired over 20 rounds at municipal meeting, killing 3; police say he hoped to slay lawyer, too

Updated: A 59-year-old man who had recently been evicted from his home after it was condemned for code violations reportedly opened fire at a Pennsylvania municipal meeting on Monday night, killing three and injuring at least three others.

The alleged killing spree by Rockne Warren Newell at the Ross Township meeting ended when a local government official and another citizen overpowered him as he was returning to the building with a second weapon he had just taken from his car, according to the Morning Call and the Pocono Record.

The shooter, who was reportedly shot with his own gun as he was taken down, survived and is jailed in Monroe County. Those killed were David Fleetwood, 62, a member of the Chestnuthill Township board of supervisors who also served as Ross Township’s zoning officer, and Gerard Kozic, 53, and James V. LaGuardia, 64, both Saylorsburg residents. The latter two men died at the scene of the 7:20 p.m. shooting and Fleetwood died at a hospital about an hour later, authorities told the Morning Call.

Police say more than 20 rounds were fired from a Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a .44 Magnum revolver, the Pocono Record reports. The handgun was purchased legally but authorities have not yet traced ownership of the rifle.

Another 90 rounds were found in Newell’s car, Reuters reports.

State police said Newell was not wearing body armor and told them he did not expect to survive his attack, according to the Pocono Record. He said, “I wish I killed more of them!” as he was taken to an ambulance, the Morning Call reported. Newell told state police he had intended to shoot a municipal attorney, who reportedly was present at Monday’s meeting but does not appear to have been injured in the attack.

“He further related that he specifically targeted the meeting because it was the only time he could get all of the township supervisors and the solicitor in a single location,” says a filed court affidavit, which is based on a state police interview of Newell after the attack. “He further related that he intended to shoot the solicitor and supervisors, and thought that he would then be killed during the incident.”

Newell was arraigned Tuesday on three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault, according to the Pocono Record.Articles by the Pocono Record and the Associated Press do not say what, if any, plea was entered for him or include a comment from his counsel, if any.

Newell, who said he had a gunshot wound in his leg, was asked by the judge if he had any real estate, among other questions apparently intended to determine whether he should be provided with a public defender.

“They stole it from me. That’s what started all this,” he responded.

Authorities said the Monday night attack ended when West End Open Space Commission Executive Director Bernie Kozen tackled Newell and took him down, with the help of another man, Mark Kresh. He and Kozen managed to wrestle the suspect’s gun from him, according to state police.

“It was certainly courageous what they did,” said state police Capt. Edward Hoke, at a news conference. “They absolutely would have saved lives. He was entering the building again with a handgun, and his intent had been shown to do harm to people, and certainly if they would not have done that he would have injured other people.”

In a first-person account by a Pocono Record reporter who was present at the time of the shooting, attending his first-ever meeting of Ross Township’s governing board, Chris Reber said he hit the deck and crawled out of the building as at least 10 shots were fired. Outside, as he hid behind a sports utility vehicle, he saw the shooter taking another weapon from his silver Impala.

Newell and the township had been in dispute for more than 10 years because of neighbor complaints about the condition of his property, which was littered with junk, including old vehicles, according to the newspaper articles. He was evicted from his home last week over a failure to install a septic system he said he couldn’t afford. Court records show an $8,000 municipal judgment against him in district court, although the exact subject isn’t clear.

“If I lose this property, I have nowhere else to go,” Newell told the Pocono Record in June. “What they’re doing to me, what they’ve been doing to me for so long, it’s wrong.”

He said at his arraignment that he has been disabled since being hit by an ambulance years ago and gets $600 to $700 a month in government income.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. to include additional information from the Morning Call, the Pocono Record and Reuters.

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