NEW YORK: A convicted felon shot dead two firefighters and wounded two others Monday after luring them to a blaze that police said he had apparently set as a trap in a small town in New York state.
The 62-year-old shooter -- who was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 17 years for his grandmother's death in 1980 -- then fatally shot himself in the head, said police in Webster, on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The incident, which comes as debate rages in the United States about gun control following the Newtown school massacre earlier this month, happened shortly before 6:00 am (1100 GMT) in a small lakefront residential community.
"It does appear that it was a trap that was set for our first responders," Webster police chief Gerald Pickering told a press conference, his voice breaking with emotion. Police have yet to mention a possible motive.
"People who get up in the middle of the night to fight fires, they don't
expect to get shot and killed," he added.
"We are a safe community, a tragedy like this is just horrendous." The firefighters were shot as they approached the scene of the blaze -- a
car and a house engulfed in a fire that they now believe was set intentionally by the shooter, identified as William Spengler.
"Four of the firefighters were shot. Two are deceased, two were transported to area hospitals," Pickering said.
The two injured men were not in critical condition and were both expected to recover.
Another off-duty police officer who responded was also shot and wounded.
One of the injured firefighters, all volunteers in the small suburb of
Rochester, was able to escape and call for help.
"We are being shot at. Multiple firemen down. Multiple firemen are shot. I am shot. I think he is using an assault rifle. We have multiple firemen down. Working fire," said the injured man, according to a police scanner recording broadcast by Fox News.
A security cordon was put up around the scene and residents were evacuated.
Seven homes were destroyed in the blaze, as the shooting thwarted initial efforts to douse the flames.
Pickering said emergency personnel had not yet been able to search the torched homes for possible additional victims.