Fatal shot ends drama at Seton Hill

Student, 22, killed after firing at officers

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State police in Greensburg shot and killed a Seton Hill University student early yesterday morning after a three-hour standoff at the man's off-campus house.

The student, Joe Frederick Briggs, 22, had threatened his roommates and himself with a gun before his roommates escaped the house and Mr. Briggs began firing shots into the street at about 4 a.m. After shooting at parked cars and neighbors' houses for three hours, Mr. Briggs went into an upstairs bedroom, broke out a window and fired a rifle at a state police officer, according to state police.

A trooper then returned fire and killed Mr. Briggs, police said.

Mr. Briggs' friends and fellow students said the incident was completely out of character for the man they knew. The man they remembered was a great friend who had shown no inclination to hurt anyone, they said.

"I don't know what all happened, but Joe was there for people," said Greg Sell, a 22-year-old senior from Ohio who became friends with Mr. Briggs when they both played for Seton Hill's football team in their freshman year. "If you needed something, he was a person you could call on."

State police said Mr. Briggs' roommates, who were not hurt yesterday, told them he might have been having personal problems with a relationship. Mr. Briggs and one of those roommates, police said, went to the Filly Corral, a strip club near a travel plaza off Interstate 70 in Smithton, on Saturday night. There, Mr. Briggs got "heavily intoxicated," they said.

Mr. Briggs' companion told them Mr. Briggs acted irrationally and fired a gun randomly out the car window on the way home to Greensburg from the club, state police said.

Sometime after the two men reached their home on Concord Avenue -- part of a tidy neighborhood of brick and frame homes opposite the university's campus -- Greensburg police got a call that Mr. Briggs was threatening to shoot himself and his roommates, according to state police.

City police arrived to find three men and a woman outside after they had fled the house. Mr. Briggs, they said, fired out of the house toward the officers, hitting cars parked on the street and at least one house. Three of those houses -- including one where an infant lives -- were evacuated, and local police called the state police and a state police emergency response team for additional help.

Mr. Briggs, they said, stayed barricaded in the house for the next three hours, during which he broke windows, threw objects out of them and continued shooting into the street, ultimately firing 30 to 40 shots, according to the police.

At 7 a.m., Mr. Briggs went to an upstairs window, pointed a long-barreled gun out the window and fired a shot toward a police officer. One member of the state police fired back, striking Mr. Briggs at the window. He was later pronounced dead by the Westmoreland County coroner's office.

During the incident, Seton Hill activated its emergency communications system that sent e-mails and texts to students on campus, telling students to stay where they were and locking down campus buildings until the incident was over, according to a statement posted on its Web site. The warning, issued at 8:30 a.m., was lifted at about 9 a.m., according to students.

The university immediately offered counseling services to students and members of the Seton Hill community. Members of the Counseling Center staff can be reached at 724-838-4295, ext. 4295.

In a statement, university officials invited the campus to attend last night's 7 p.m. Mass at the university's St. Joseph Chapel to join the community "in praying for the soul of the student and the student's family."

Dozens of Mr. Briggs' friends attended the service, which was closed to the media. Although most of them declined to talk about the shooting or about Mr. Briggs, other students said his death was a tragedy for the entire campus, a tightly knit community of about 1,500 students.

"It's devastating," said Katie Brown, 19, a sophomore who said she met Mr. Briggs just once but remembered him as kind and personable. "It affects everyone here in some way, even if they didn't know him well."

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1122.


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