Town in Blair County grieves over killings
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FRANKSTOWN, Pa. -- People in this Blair County community mourned four lost lives on Saturday as authorities said one thing was clear in the chaotic trail of destruction in which guns and vehicles were used as weapons: The shooting of Jeffrey Lee Michael was a justifiable homicide.
More than 200 people packed the Geeseytown Evangelical Lutheran Church for a Saturday night prayer service remembering Kimberly Scott, 58, of Duncansville, and Kenneth Lynn, 60, and William Rhodes Jr., 38, a father and son-in-law from Geeseytown.
"At this point it's hard to say" how the rural community will move forward, said the church's pastor, Michael Rhyne. "This tragedy comes into everyone's life."
Many people, he said, are "still wondering how something like this could happen ... why?"
Few new details emerged about the Friday morning shooting. State police clarified that Mr. Michael, 44, shot Ms. Scott at the Juniata Valley Gospel Church, where plastic covered a window damaged by gunfire and a bouquet was tucked into the door knob Saturday, and shot Mr. Lynn in the driveway of his home on Lower Reese Road, a small road that juts off Juniata Valley Road, along which the other deaths occurred.
After he killed them, Mr. Michael drove north on Juniata Valley Road in a white pickup truck and "intentionally rammed" a car Mr. Rhodes was driving, injuring him in the crash and then shooting him, state police said. The Blair County coroner's office said the gunfire and injuries suffered in the crash caused Mr. Rhodes' death.
Mr. Michael then continued driving north on Juniata Valley Road, firing at troopers who were responding to the previous shooting scenes, police said. They said Mr. Michael's bullets struck two police cruisers before he collided with one head on and was rear-ended by another.
Mr. Michael then got out of his car near the intersection with Lind's Crossing and fired at the troopers, who fired back and killed him, police said.
Three troopers were injured in the fray. All of them were taken to Altoona Regional Hospital and released that afternoon.
The motive for the shootings remains murky. Law enforcement officials either do not know or have not commented about what prompted Mr. Michael's spree.
Federal and Blair County court records show that Mr. Michael, a truck driver, filed to divorce his ex-wife in 2010 and that the pair had filed for bankruptcy in 2001. She declined comment.
U.S. Bank National Association filed a mortgage foreclosure at the couple's previous address in October but court records show the sheriff's office was not initially able to find them to serve the paperwork.
People living in and near Geeseytown heard that Mr. Michael was involved in a nasty crash several months ago, but officials did not confirm that.
Friends visiting his home declined comment and those who lived there did not return messages.
"We may never know [the motive]," said John Bolger, whose Martinsburg funeral home is handling arrangements for the three people Mr. Michael killed.
Mr. Bolger and Geeseytown residents heard that Ms. Scott's sister, Rebecca Gampe, was also in the Juniata Valley Gospel Church when her sister was killed, although police said they did not wish to comment on witnesses who survived the shootings.
The victims' families are coping "amazingly, admirably well," Mr. Bolger said.
Visitation for Ms. Scott, a Hollidaysburg Area High School graduate who worked for 36 years at local car dealerships, will be held today and a funeral service will follow on Monday.
Joint services will be held for Mr. Lynn and Mr. Rhodes, with visitation on Thursday and a funeral service following on Friday.
The Harry Miller Funeral Home in East Freedom is coordinating Mr. Michael's services, the details of which have not yet been finalized.
Meanwhile, the community where just about everyone knows just about everyone will try to cope.
"This is unprecedented in my time," said Mr. Bolger, who has been coordinating funerals for more than three decades.
On Saturday night, that coping process meant that Boy Scouts put on their uniforms and attended the vigil to support their friend, whose father was killed. It meant firefighters in partial gear sweated in the humid church while members of the clergy led readings and hymns. It meant that some put on suits and ties, or dress blue if they had served somewhere.
"This begins the healing process," Mr. Rhyne, the pastor, said. Now people will "move on with the new normal."
First Published December 23, 2012 12:00 am