By Jim Melwert
SAYLORSBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Pennsylvania State Police say an ongoing dispute with township officials led a man to open fire on a municipal building in a rural Pennsylvania community where a township meeting was being held, killing three people and injuring three others, before being tackled to the ground and shot with his own gun.
The incident happened at a Ross Township supervisors meeting in Saylorsburg, Monroe County, between 7 and 7:30 Monday night, with about 18 people in the township building.
A reporter for the Pocono Record was in the meeting when gunfire began, and he describes the plaster of the walls exploding. He was able to crawl out a side door to safety, but he says he saw the gunman go out to a car in the parking lot, get another weapon and then go back in the building.
State Police Captain Edward Hoke says, “Mr. (Rockne) Newell approached the township building armed with a long gun. Upon the approach to the township building, he began to fire the long gun into the township building, through the windows of the building.”
Hear the full briefing by Pa. State Police officials (runs 25:07)…
Investigators say Newell then returned to his car and retrieved a second gun and this time walked into the building. State Police say two individuals – Bernie Kozen and Mark Kresh – jumped on Newell and held him down until police arrived. During the scrum, Newell was shot in the leg with his own gun.
In the Affidavit of Probable Cause, a Pennsylvania State Trooper said he heard Newell say “I wish I killed more of them,” while he was being escorted out of the building.
Two people died at the scene, another was flown to the hospital, but died of his wounds. The victims have been identified as David Fleetwood, Gerard Kozic and James Laguardia.
The injured have been identified as Linda Kozic, Frank Pirano and Howard Beers.
During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, State Police indicated that the gunshots appeared to be fired at random. State Police said Newell fired 28 rounds with the rifle. Authorities said Newell had a legal permit for the handgun, but they were still tracing the rifle.
Captain Hoke says Newell has had a long running feud with the township.
“He’s had an ongoing dispute with township officials, something about the condemnation of his property and issues relating to his sewer,” Hoke says. “Not really sure if he personally knew the individuals who had been killed.”
Investigators said they conducted search warrants Tuesday at properties connected to Newell.
Previous reports in the Pocono Record say township officials found buckets on Newell’s property with human waste in them. They say he was living on a property without a proper septic system.
Back in June, the paper quoted him as saying he couldn’t afford the fees for sewer hook-up and he said if he lost the property he’d have nowhere else to go.
The 59-year-old Newell has been charged with three counts of homicide, two counts of attempted homicide and aggravated assault. He remains in police custody.