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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pennsylvania Gunman Feuded With Officials for Almost Two Decades Over Land

A video report from Ross Township in northeastern Pennsylvania where a 59-year-old man shot and killed three people at a municipal meeting over a land dispute.

Angry that town officials in northeastern Pennsylvania took over his junk-strewn, wooded property at a sheriff’s sale last month, Rockne Newell opened fire at a township supervisors meeting on Monday night, killing three people and wounding two others before he was wrestled to the ground by two men, state police officials said on Tuesday.

When asked at his arraignment on three counts of murder whether he owned property, Mr. Newell, 59, told the judge: “No, they stole it from me. That’s what started all this.”

In an interview last August with the Pocono Record, Mr. Newell described his two-decade-long battle with township officials over the property in Saylorsburg, which he had lost in court. A judge agreed with town officials that he had to vacate and clean up the property because he did not have, among other things, a sewage or dwelling permit.

“Looks like I’m gonna be homeless because I have nowhere to go,” he told the Pocono Record reporter who described Mr. Newell’s voice as rising in outrage as he walked among tires, cinder blocks, piles of lumber and other items on his unmown property. “Applying for a sewage permit means I have to get a soil test done, which costs $40,000, which I don’t have.”

He also described why he had gathered so many different things in his yard. “I’m a collector from a family of collectors,” he explained. “I use most of what I collect, like part of a playground slide to pour concrete for cinder blocks and wood to fence my yard from people driving by and throwing beer bottles. This saves me hundreds of dollars. I scrap and sell what I can’t use.”

Mr. Newell, who said he was disabled and living on $600 a month, tried unsuccessfully to raise money last fall on an online crowdfunding platform to keep the property.

I need to clean up and I need a lawyer, I have no place to go and my two rescue dogs will be put to sleep because no one else will take them.
Ross Township took me to court and the court ruled that I have to vacate my home of 20 years and remove the bridge that FEMA gave me. $5,000 to put in as well as clean up my land. I live on S.S.I. which comes to $600 a month. I have no money to clean up and it is insane to make me remove a bridge that FEMA gave the money to put in! I have no place to go I need a lawyer but have no money!

Mr. Newell failed to receive any donations to his cause on the platform, Give Forward, which is used primarily for people seeking to raise money for medical and health reasons.

State police said that 15 to 18 people, including two officials, were at the Ross Township board of supervisors meeting at 7:20 p.m. Monday when Mr. Newell first fired shots from a .223 rifle through a window, piercing the walls where the meeting was taking place. He then retrieved a .44 Magnum revolver from his car and walked into the room through a side door, shooting at least five people.

David Fleetwood, 62, a zoning codes enforcement officer for the city of Saylorsburg and two other residents, Gerard Kozic, 53, and James LaGuardia, 64, were killed according the coroner’s office. Two others, Frank Piraino, Jr. and Mr. Kozic’s wife, Linda, were wounded.

As he fired rounds, Mr. Newell was tackled by two men, Bernie Kozen and Mark Kresh, as he continued to fire his weapon, shooting himself once in the leg. State police officials praised the men for their courage in tackling Mr. Newell while he was shooting.

On Facebook, Mr. Newell discussed his politics and views on guns, writing about how he voted for President Obama but was unhappy with the administration.

In March, he shared his thoughts on Facebook about the impact of gun control on reducing violence:

We can change the way we interact with each other! And this will do more to reduce violence than gun control i.e. the overwhelming percentage of rape is strong arm, the Sam is true of other crime! Gun control is not crime control! Gun control will not reduce violent crime! Murder even mass murder existed long before guns!

Chris Reber was covering his first Ross Township board meeting for the Pocono Record Monday night when he looked up and saw plaster exploding from the wall.

I heard more than 10 shots, he told his editors.

It was automatic, like a string of firecrackers. That’s what everyone said.

There were real heroes here. People who did not consider their own lives in protecting others.

I crawled out to a hallway and then got outside. There is nothing in reality you can compare it to. It just was not in reality. All I could think was: It wasn’t happening to me.