Gunman kills three in Blair County
Officials investigate the scene at Juniata Valley Gospel Church Friday where one woman was shot and killed.
Scott Strayer, 68, who lives near Juniata Valley Road, said he was driving home when he passed the shooter's pickup truck and then came upon William Rhodes' car, which had eight to 10 bullet holes, and learned that Mr. Rhodes was dead inside the vehicle.
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FRANKSTOWN, Pa. -- Residents in this rural Blair County community struggled to understand Friday why one of their own killed three people and injured three state troopers, who then shot him to death.
State police said they were rushing to Juniata Valley Road about 9 a.m. to respond to a report that someone was firing shots in the area when they passed a white truck and the driver began shooting at them.
They said the man, whom neighbors identified as 44-year-old Jeffrey Michael, fired at the first cruiser, hitting a trooper in the wrist.
Bullets hit the second police car in the line, sending shards of glass and shrapnel into a trooper's eye.
The two troopers turned around to continue their chase when Mr. Michael rammed into a third police car, turned around and fired at the first trooper's chest, hitting his protective vest, investigators said.
The troopers returned fire and one of them killed Mr. Michael.
It wasn't until after Mr. Michael was shot that police confirmed that he had killed three people.
"This, to me, is one of the largest crime investigations, when you talk about number of investigators, that I've seen not just in my severn or eight years as DA but also in my 15 years as assistant district attorney before that," District Attorney Rich Consiglio said at an afternoon news conference.
Investigators said they still were trying to learn the motive and to piece together the order in which the shootings occurred.
A woman was killed while hanging Christmas decorations in Juniata Valley Gospel Church, less than a half-mile from Mr. Michael's single-story white home. Frankstown Supervisor George Henry identified her as Kimberly Scott.
At some point, Mr. Michael rammed his truck into another car and shot the driver, whom neighbors identified as William Rhodes.
Police said he also shot a man, whom neighbor's identified as Mr. Rhodes' father-in-law, Kenneth Lynn, at a home along Juniata Valley Road.
Crime scene tape surrounded Mr. Michael's house near the corner of Juniata Valley and Lower Reese roads Friday night. State police forensic investigators and a member of the clergy stood inside.
Mr. Michael, a truck driver, sometimes aggravated neighbors by firing shots at early hours or setting off fireworks but otherwise didn't seem to clash with many people, said Brian Davis, who lives next door.
Mr. Davis said he was inside his house Friday morning when he heard one shot, a pause, four shots, a pause and then four more shots.
"I didn't even get up," he said, noting that many people hunt in the area.
It wasn't until state police and ambulances started rushing through with their lights on that Mr. Davis realized something was amiss.
"There's a lot that still doesn't add up," he said Friday night.
He said Mr. Michael used to greet Mr. Lynn when the two went to check their mailboxes and they seemed to be friendly with one another.
Scott Strayer, a 68-year-old retiree who lives near Juniata Valley Road, said that dynamic was shattered Friday morning.
He said he was driving home when he passed the shooter's pickup truck and then came upon Mr. Rhodes' car, which had eight to 10 bullet holes, and learned that Mr. Rhodes was dead inside.
"It's crazy," he said. The town is normally quiet and peaceful.
Mr. Consiglio said the last triple homicide in Blair County occurred in 2005 when an illegal immigrant killed three people at the Altoona UVA.
Earlier this week, some community members were stressed by the death of the Rev. D. David McCaulley, the pastor of the Juniata Valley Gospel Church, where Ms. Scott was killed Friday morning and where white sheets covered the glass in the doors Friday night.
David McCaulley's brother, the Rev. James McCaulley, said Ms. Scott was hanging decorations for an upcoming children's Christmas party in the church's fellowship hall when she was shot. She was among the volunteers who had cooked for his brother's funeral dinner a day earlier.
"I probably hugged her," he said. "I've been in ministry for over 40 years, but I'm at a loss to come up with any reason when something like this happens," James McCaulley said. "Trying to make sense of it is futile because this goes beyond anything that you can make sense of. It's totally beyond imagination -- what drives people to do such things."
State police said they hope to learn more in the coming days about what prompted the shooter to kill three others and to fire at the troopers, all of whom had been released from the hospital by Friday afternoon.
"It was a very violent attack," said Lt. Col. George Bivens. "As more details come out, I believe you'll see just how lucky they really were. Someone was watching over them."
First Published December 22, 2012 12:28 am