SAYLORSBURG — A day after a shooting that left three people dead in his rural Pennsylvania community’s township building, a witness being hailed as a hero described a chaotic scene that ended with him and another man wrestling the suspected gunman to the ground as others hid behind a barrier of overturned tables and chairs.
“He was saying, ‘They stole my land! They stole my land!’ A bunch of curse words,” said Ross Township resident Mark Kresh, 47.
Though he and the township’s parks and recreation director, Bernie Kozen, tackled the gunman and forced him to the floor, Kresh deflected the praise given to him by state police, saying he simply acted on instinct.
“The only news I know is that three innocent people got killed and two others got hurt. I did what I needed to do to protect my wife and other innocent people in the room,” he said Tuesday. “We came out very lucky. We made it out alive. The story is about the people who lost their lives. I’ll get over it in a few days.”
Authorities said Rockne Newell, 59, a disabled junk dealer feuding with local officials over his debris-strewn property, packed a rental car with guns and ammunition before opening fire at a town meeting and killing three men Monday evening.
He had lost his property this year in a court fight over complaints that he lived in a storage shed, built an illegal culvert and used a bucket outside as a toilet.
At his arraignment on homicide charges Tuesday morning, a judge asked Newell if he owned any real estate.
“They stole it from me. That’s what started all this,” he replied.
Newell allegedly used a Ruger Mini-14 rifle to blast a barrage of gunfire through a wall into the meeting room in Ross Township, about 85 miles north of Philadelphia, before entering the room and shooting a supervisor and four residents, two of whom survived and were released from the hospital, as was Newell.
Newell then retreated to the car and picked up a revolver, authorities said. When he returned to the meeting room, the 5-foot-10, 240-pound suspect was tackled by two men and shot in the leg during the scuffle, officials said.
“I wish I killed more of them!” Newell shouted when state Trooper Nicolas De La Iglesia arrived on the scene before 8 p.m., according to the trooper’s affidavit.
Gerard J. Kozic, 53, and James V. LaGuardia, 64, both of Saylorsburg, died at the scene and Ross Township zoning officer David Fleetwood, 62, died after being flown to a hospital.
Newell told police he had gone to the meeting in hopes of finding the township officials in one place.
“He intended to shoot the solicitor and supervisors and thought that he would then be killed,” police said in the affidavit.
Newell was about to fire his .44 Magnum revolver when Kresh and Kozen wrestled him to the ground.
“Two very courageous individuals positioned themselves in a way that they were able to jump on this subject as he came through the door,” state police Lt. Col. George Bivens said. “This could have been much worse.”
Newell didn’t enter a plea at his arraignment on three homicide counts and two counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault.
He was given a form for a public defender, but he did not request a lawyer. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 19.
“When I found out about the shooting, we all looked at each other and said his name,” said Terry Doll, 58, who lives near Newell and said he was well-known as a “kook,” an intelligent man whose unpredictability stoked fear in some neighbors.