State police identify 4 shooting victims in Cambria County incident

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Plans for a quiet night at home for an elderly couple and their adult son in Cambria County ended in the shooting deaths of four family members Friday after a brazen home invasion by the couple's long-estranged daughter and her husband, according to state police in Ebensburg.

Roberta Frew, 64, her husband, 67-year-old John Edward Frew Sr., and their son, 47-year-old John Edward Frew Jr., had just come home to their house in rural Ashville, Pa., after dining out and had settled into the living room of their double-wide trailer home to watch television when they heard a knock at the door at about 10 p.m., police said.

Mrs. Frew answered the door and, police said, her husband believes she cried out, "Oh my God, they have guns!"

The woman outside the door -- who was later identified as the couple's daughter, 43-year-old Josephine Ruckinger -- immediately shot Mrs. Frew in the chest with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, killing her, police said.

Mr. Frew and his son scattered, and police say the younger man might have tried to grab a .22-caliber rifle, but was shot in the chest multiple times and killed by the male intruder, Josephine Ruckinger's husband, 43-year-old Jeffrey Ruckinger.

At the time, Mr. Ruckinger was carrying a .410 derringer pistol and a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, according to state police.

The elder Mr. Frew, however, escaped injury and managed to retrieve a .22-caliber revolver from a rear bedroom, they said. He emerged to find the female intruder -- whom police said he didn't recognize as his daughter because he hadn't seen her in 20 years -- aiming her gun at him.

"As he emerged into the room, he observed the female intruder down on one knee and at that point, he observed the 12-gauge shotgun pointing in his direction," said Troop A spokesman Trooper John Matchik. "At that point, he shot her in the head with the .22-caliber revolver."

Mrs. Ruckinger was later pronounced dead at Altoona UPMC Trauma Center. The cause was a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the Cambria County coroner.

Police said Mr. Frew then turned and saw Mr. Ruckinger crouched against the home's refrigerator, firing a handgun at him. Mr. Frew shot back, striking the male intruder, including at least once in the head, and killing him. His cause of death also was a single gunshot wound to the head, the coroner said.

After the shooting stopped, Mr. Frew called 911 and went outside to wait for the police on the front porch. The first trooper to arrive saw the Ruckingers' Suzuki Esteem station wagon parked at the bottom of the driveway, and a search of the vehicle revealed large amounts of ammunition, a gas can and a can of charcoal lighter fluid, Mr. Matchik said.

Mr. Frew, who only learned during an interview with investigators that the female assailant he shot was his daughter, is unlikely to be charged with a crime, Mr. Matchik said.

"In a preliminary sense, it appears to be a case of self-defense, unless we have any additional information that would lead us to believe otherwise," Mr. Matchik said. "These intruders had come to his home to cause him and his family significant harm."

In addition to studying ballistics and other evidence at the scene, he said, investigators are still exploring possible motives and any possible connections to past burglaries at the property, which is located about 40 miles southwest of State College.

Mrs. Frew's sister, Virginia Cruse, told the Associated Press that her sister and niece did not get along, but that she had no idea what prompted Friday's tragedy.

The daughter had "a hatred toward the family," she said.

When Mrs. Ruckinger was about 20, she and a boyfriend trashed her parents' home and stole items including a pistol, then fled to Pittsburgh, Ms. Cruse told the Associated Press. After that, she said, "more or less, they disowned her."

Jeff Ruckinger worked for a tire repair company, and Josephine had disabilities that prevented her from working, Ms. Cruse said.

breaking - region

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com. First Published September 29, 2013 1:45 PM


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