HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A man fatally shot a woman decorating for a children’s Christmas party at a tiny church hall and killed two men elsewhere in a rural central Pennsylvania township Friday before he was fatally shot in a gunfight with state troopers.
The shootings began in Frankstown Township at about 9 a.m. and investigators were processing five crime scenes within about a 1.5-mile radius, authorities said at a news briefing Friday afternoon. The troopers were responding to a 911 call of a shooting in the township when they heard calls reporting at least one other shooting elsewhere, state police spokeswoman Maria Finn said.
“It’s going to take us some time to put this all together… and know exactly what occurred,” Lt. Col. George Biven’s, deputy state police commissioner, said at a news briefing.
Family members of the victims said they were told the woman at the church was the first victim shot, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. The gunman then shot two men in the driveway of a home after a confrontation at a stop sign, authorities said.
“This person went to their driveway with a pistol, pointed at them and started shooting,” Marie Brenneman told the newspaper, identifying herself as a cousin of one of the male victims. She said both male victims were the shooter’s neighbors in the tiny village of Geeseytown, about 70 miles west of Harrisburg.
“They were uneasy around him,” she said.
The woman at Juniata Valley Gospel Church had cooked food the day before for the funeral of the longtime pastor, said the Rev. James McCaulley, his brother. The central Pennsylvania church was still reeling from the Rev. David McCaulley’s death when the woman returned to decorate the church hall – named after the pastor of 58 years – and bullets ripped through a window, he said.
The gunman then entered and shot one of two women before he left, the Rev. James McCaulley said.
Two troopers driving to the scene of one shooting were fired upon by the driver of a pickup truck headed in the other direction, and the truck smashed head-on into a cruiser driven by a third trooper. The truck driver – believed to be the gunman who killed the other victims – exited the truck and immediately fired at the troopers, who returned fire and killed him, Finn said.
Bivens said investigators don’t know if the victims were picked at random. “We’re not at that point in the investigation to firmly say one way or another,” he said.
All three troopers were being treated at a hospital for what Finn said were non-life threatening injuries.
One trooper was hit by two bullets, one that hit the body armor on his chest and the other that wounded the trooper’s wrist, Finn said. A second trooper was hit by shattered glass and shrapnel. Those two troopers were expected to be released from the hospital Friday.
The third trooper was being evaluated for injuries he suffered from the head-on crash with the gunman’s truck.
McCaulley, who is the pastor of another church about 50 miles away from the site of Friday’s carnage, said his older brother began leading the Frankstown church in 1954.
“He preached his last sermon at the church in October before he fell ill,” McCaulley said.
The church, which lists about 150 members in an online want ad posted this month for an associate pastor, is close-knit and the woman killed Friday was among its more active members, McCaulley said. She had made food for him to bring home Thursday since his wife had died this year, he said.
“The only thing I can say good at this time is that (the gunman) didn’t do this 24 hours earlier when there was a big crowd in the church hall,” McCaulley said. “We’re devastated.”
Friday’s shootings were the second involving a rural western Pennsylvania church this month.
Gregory Eldred, 52, an elementary school teacher is jailed on charges he fatally shot his ex-wife, a church organist, during a service in Coudersport on Dec. 2. The pastor and church members subdued him until police arrived.