Gunman with 18-year grudge suspected after 3 killed at town council meeting

CNN
Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 8:43am

Ross Township in rural Pennsylvania is the kind of place that, in the words of one county official, is "never in the newspaper."

Monday night changed that. Police said a resident with a grudge rained hell at a town council meeting.

By the time he was subdued, Rockne Newell had fatally shot three people and wounded several others, police said.

Newell had a years-long feud over property rights with the township's board of supervisors, the elected body that sets policies and laws for the community of 5,400.

Last year, a court ordered him to leave the property in Monroe County and later put it up for sale, the Pocono Record newspaper reported.

"If I lose this property, I have nowhere else to go," he told the paper in June.

"What they're doing to me, what they've been doing to me for so long, it's wrong."

Three people who were sent to a hospital -- including Newell -- have been released, Geoffrey Roche, spokesman for the Pocono Medical Center, told CNN Tuesday. Newell is now in police custody.

No warning

The terror began even before the gunman entered the building.

Ross Township's monthly supervisors' meeting had just started when the shooter marched toward the municipal building in Saylorsburg with a long gun and fired through the windows.

Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber, who was covering his first board meeting, saw plaster flying.

"Witnesses would later tell me they saw pictures exploding away from the walls," he wrote in a first-person account for the paper.

The shooter then entered the building with about 15 officials and residents inside and fired away, police said.

He left, got a handgun, came back and started firing again, Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Edward Hoke said.

Reber said one man was shot after he pushed a woman away from the gunman.

The gunman apparently didn't notice Bernie Kozen tending to the man, Reber said. Kozen, the director of a local park preservation group, took advantage of the break.

"Bernie bearhugged him and took him down. He shot (the assailant) with his own gun," Reber said.

Police said two people tackled the suspect.

"It's certainly courageous what they did, and they absolutely would have saved lives," state police Lt. Robert Bartel said.

"He was entering the building again with a handgun, and certainly his intent had been shown that he wanted to do harm to people. Certainly if they had not done that, he would have killed or injured other people."

Newell was being treated at Pocono Medical Center on Monday night, police said.

Peace shattered

Police have not identified the three people killed.

It's a surreal nightmare for the township, 75 miles north of Philadelphia. Ross Township is so quiet that it never garnered big headlines before.

"They are never in the newspaper," Monroe County Commissioner Suzanne McCool said. "They are the only township in Monroe County that hasn't had a tax increase in many, many years."

But Newell had an ax to grind.

According to the Pocono Record, Newell got a building permit from the township to have a storage structure on his property, but then built a residence there without getting a proper permit. He's been fighting the township for 18 years.

Neighbors complained about the property, including one report of human fecal matter in buckets, the Record said.

The township ruled he was improperly disposing of sewage with no septic system or permit for one. But Newell said he couldn't afford septic hookup fees.

Last year, after the court ordered Newell to leave, the property was set for a sheriff's sale.

It's unclear whether those killed Monday were targeted by the gunman or if they were shot randomly.

But the topic of Newell's property wasn't on the meeting's agenda.

-- CNN's Joe Sutton, Kevin Conlon and Rick Martin contributed to this report.

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