A man feuding with officials in his rural Pennsylvania town over living conditions at his ramshackle, trash-filled property killed three people at a municipal meeting, including at least one town official, in a rampage that blew holes through the walls and sent people crawling for cover.

The gunman, Rockne Newell, was tackled to the ground and shot with his own gun after firing gunshots through the wall and bursting into the meeting Monday night.  It is believed that one or possibly two people may have subdued the gunman, who was shot in one of his legs.

The shooting, which injured at least two other people, happened shortly before 7:30 p.m. during Ross Township’s monthly meeting.  About 15 to 18 residents and town officials were at the building, a short drive from Newell’s property, when the gunfire erupted.

Two people died at the scene, and a third person died after being flown to a hospital.  Police confirmed that at least one of the dead was a township official but declined to give additional details.  A fourth person, a woman, was undergoing surgery late Monday.  Her injuries were not disclosed.

Investigators said Newell began shooting, a hunting rifle with a scope, as he approached the building and continued as he walked into and through it.  He then went back out to his vehicle; silver colored Chevy Impala, in the parking lot, retrieved a handgun and went back into the building, firing more shots.

Witnesses stated that Bernie Kozen bear-hugged the gunman and took him down and then shot the shooter with his own gun.”

Newell had been in a long-running dispute with township officials over the dilapidated condition of his property.  The township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations.

Last October, Newell set up a fundraising page online and was trying to raise $10,000 to pay for legal fees in his battle with the township.  “Ross Township took me to court & the court ruled I have to vacate my home of 20 years,” he wrote on the page called saveRockyshome. “I live on SSI which comes to $600 a month, I have no money to clean it up.”  Newell said his two rescue dogs “will be put to sleep because no one else will take them.”

The property includes an old camper in the front yard filled with wooden pallets; pieces of old railroad ties and trash.  A garage leans over to one side and appears close to collapse, and a propane tank sits inside an old dog house.

A story, in the local newspaper, was recently published about what it said was an 18-year fight between the township and Newell over his property.  Newell told the paper he was unemployed for years after an injury from a crash and had nowhere else to go.  “They have no right to kick me off my property,” he told the newspaper.  “They call my property an eyesore.  When I bought it, it was one of only three properties on the entire road that didn’t have what they call junk.”

Monroe County Court in August 2012 sided with the township and ordered Newell to vacate and never again occupy or use the property unless he had the permits to do so.  The report said Newell had been living out of a car, a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, and in abandoned buildings since being ordered to vacate.  Newell was in police custody after being treated at the hospital, Monday night.

Ross Township has about 5,500 residents.  According to its website, the board of supervisors meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of each month.

This is just another example of ongoing conflicts between communities and individual property owners that is taking place throughout this country.  We have the same situation occurring locally between officials of Morton County and a property owner in the small community of Huff.  The courts and the county officials have been in a constant battle with the property owner to clear the property of junk which has been deemed an eyesore and a threat to the local environment.  This conflict has been going on for years and has been in and out of court numerous times.

We have trailer courts or parks in our city that look worse than this property and the city does nothing to clean them up.  There seems to be a double standard going on where the city will take on individual property owners, but, in turn, ignore other property owners based on taxes paid to the city.

The sad thing about this was innocent lives were lost and who is to blame?  The crazed property owner who goes “postal” and starts firing or the officials who forced him off his property?  He has probably always had some mental instability, but taking away his idea of “home” must have put him over the edge of reason.  The loss of your home can often be a loss of “self” and any major loss in your life of something you cherish and love, can and will be devastating.  Do you point fingers at the township supervisors for forcing the issue?  Was it worth it now to seize the property and force him to live in a car?  Were there any attempts by citizens to help clean up the property and thus avoid taking away his right to continue living there?  We will never know.

But, now the issue has been resolved.  The property can now be cleared of all the junk, he will no longer be a threat to anyone, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, and hopefully the death toll stays at three.  What a price to pay to get rid of some junk.

 

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