Police: Poconos shooter said, 'I wish I killed more'

Accused shooter Rockne Newell in a photograph taken May 22. He was at odds with Ross Twp., Monroe County, over his property, and was arrested after shootings at a supervisors' meeting.
Accused shooter Rockne Newell in a photograph taken May 22. He was at odds with Ross Twp., Monroe County, over his property, and was arrested after shootings at a supervisors' meeting. (Pocono Record)
Posted: August 08, 2013

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. - The man accused of killing three people and wounding three others in a shooting rampage at a municipal building had a long-standing feud with township officials over his property and was heard to say, "I wish I killed more of them," officials said.

Rockne Newell was being held without bail after the shootings Monday night in this rural community in the Poconos. He was stopped by two men who tackled him and held him to the ground, police said.

"They are heroes," said Lt. Col. George Bivens of the state police. "They wrestled with him even as he was firing rounds from his revolver."

Newell had fired close to 30 rifle rounds through the walls and windows of the Ross Township municipal building around 7:30 p.m., police said, striking several people and sending others diving for cover before he went back to his car for his handgun.

When Bernie Kozen, director of the town's parks department, looked out the window and saw Newell on his way back to the building with the second gun, he shouted out to warn the others in the room, Bivens said.

Kozen then tackled Newell as he entered. As shots were fired, a meeting attendee, Mark Krashe, came to Kozen's aid, Bivens said, "undoubtedly" saving the lives of others in the room.

As Kozen tackled Newell, he said, the man was yelling, "You took my property," adding an expletive, according to documents filed in the case in Monroe County.

Police said Newell was shot in the scuffle with the men, and was treated for the wound and jailed. It was unclear how that shooting occurred.

Police on Tuesday offered subdued accounts of the shooting that shocked this wooded town, which has a population of under 6,000. Saylorsburg is in a quaint corner of Monroe County dotted with small stores and surrounded by mountains, tall trees, and the occasional strip mall. Some of its tallest buildings are church steeples.

Police declined to speculate on a motive but acknowledged that Newell, 59, had a long-standing feud with the township that had recently come to a head with the condemnation and sheriff's sale of his home.

A state trooper who arrived at the scene Monday night overheard Newell say, as he was being led away by authorities, "I wish I killed more of them," according to the affidavit filed in the case.

As police spoke with Newell from his hospital bed at Pocono Medical Center, they said he described his ongoing problems with the town.

"He further related that he had specifically targeted the meeting because it was the only time he could get all of the township supervisors and the solicitor in a single location," the affidavit stated. "He further related that he intended to shoot the solicitor and supervisors, and thought he would then be killed during the incident."

Newell shot one supervisor, who survived. The dead were identified as James V. LaGuardia, 64, and Gerard Kozic, 53, both of Saylorsburg, and the township zoning officer, David Fleetwood, 62, who died at St. Luke's Hospital-Fountain Hill about an hour after the shooting.

Kozic's wife, Linda, was wounded in a leg and taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital. Also injured were Frank Piraino, 61, who was treated for a head injury, and Howard Beers, 55, a township supervisor, who went to the hospital with a hand injury.

Newell's dilapidated property is in the woods along Flyte Road, a curving country road winding along the hills through a dense forest. From the road, trees could be seen leaning on the main building, and several smaller structures on the land appeared abandoned and crumbling. The estimated market value of the 1.3-acre property is about $125,000, according to public records.

Newell is on disability for a back injury, police said. His Facebook page said he had worked as a general laborer at Hercules Powder Co., a chemical company that was acquired by Ashland Inc. in 2008.

For more than a year, Newell's property has been a common topic at township supervisors meetings regarding violations of zoning and sewer codes, according to board minutes. Supervisors were continually updated by the township solicitor regarding efforts to condemn the land.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office told The Inquirer that the sheriff's sale of Newell's property was finalized July 25. The sale stems from an $8,000 civil judgment the township won against Newell in 2002 over his failure to pay taxes.

In August 2012, Newell posted on his Facebook page: "Ross Township took me to court & the court ruled that I have to vacate my home of 20 years." He also said he was ordered to remove a bridge for which the Federal Emergency Management Agency had given him $5,000 in disaster-assistance money after tropical storms in 2011.

Noting that he lived on Social Security payments of $600 a month, he said, "I have no money to clean up & it is insane to make me remove a bridge that FEMA gave the money to put in! I have no place to go I need a Lawyer but have no money!"

Newell tried to raise $10,000 to defend against the township's legal actions against him, according to the online fund-raising site Giveforward.com.

He stated on the website, "I need to clean up & I need a lawyer, I have no place to go and my two rescue dogs will be put to sleep because no one else will take them."

He raised no money, according to his site.

Ross Township also was in touch with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office concerning the possibility that Newell filed a fraudulent insurance claim with FEMA, according to board minutes. Toomey's office confirmed the township's request, but declined to comment, citing privacy concerns. Peter Herrick, a FEMA spokesman, also declined to comment.

Police said that Newell bought his handgun legally and that they were looking into his ownership of the rifle. Both guns were registered to him, officials said.

Police on Tuesday searched Newell's property, as well as a car that Newell recently rented, and planned to search a second property in Hamilton Township where they said Newell had been staying.

State police Lt. Robert Bartal said Newell had more than 90 rounds for the handgun in his car. Police also found a pair of binoculars, a change of clothes, a flashlight, and several bottles of water, according to a search warrant.

Newell has a record of an arrest for reckless endangerment from the 1980s, Bartal said, but he did not have the details of that case.

Police said they did not believe Newell had made any recent threats, and no recent interactions with Newell suggested he was planning such an attack.

One longtime resident of Saylorsburg, who did not wish to be named, said it had been unthinkable that such a rampage could strike there.

"Nothing ever happens," he said.

Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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