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December 27, 2012

Firefighters who survived ambush thankful

NORMAN — Two firefighters wounded by a gunman who set his upstate New York house ablaze and killed two of their colleagues in an ambush with weapons he wasn’t allowed to own were on the mend Wednesday and said they were thankful for the support they’ve received.

Investigators, meanwhile, traced the gunman’s weapons and tried to confirm a body found in his destroyed house was his sister’s.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, who had been in guarded condition, were being upgraded to satisfactory condition on Wednesday at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital, which released a statement from them saying they were “humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes for us and our families.”

The firefighters said their “thoughts and prayers” were with the families of colleagues Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, killed by William Spengler Jr., a convicted felon barred from having guns. Funerals are set for the next few days for Chiapperini and Kaczowka.

Authorities said Spengler set a car on fire and touched off an “inferno” in his Webster home on a strip of land along the Lake Ontario shore, took up a sniper’s position and opened fire on the first firefighters to arrive at about 5:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

Spengler, 62, traded rifle fire with a Webster police officer who had accompanied the firefighters and then killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

Investigators found a rambling, two- to three-page typed letter laying out Spengler’s intention to destroy his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people.”

They believe remains found in the burned home are those of Cheryl Spengler, but that hadn’t been confirmed, and it was unknown how she died. The Spengler siblings had lived in the home with their mother, Arline Spengler, who died in October. In all, seven houses were destroyed by the flames.

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