Leaders in Leetsdale, Moon, Sewickley reflect on Northeastern Pa. municipal shooting

Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Leetsdale officials were talking about upgrading security at the borough building on Beaver Street before a man fatally shot three people Aug. 5 in a northeastern Pennsylvania municipal building.

“That could happen anytime, anywhere,” Leetsdale Council President Joe McGurk said.

McGurk said leaders in Leetsdale, with about 1,200 residents, last month considered requiring visitors to be buzzed into the borough building.

Leetsdale leaders talked about building security again the night after an attack that left three people dead, including a township official, in Ross Township, Monroe County — about 85 miles north of Philadelphia.

Suspect Rockne Newell, 59, is in custody.

Newell had been involved in a dispute with township officials over a dilapidated property. During the incident last week, he was tackled to the ground and shot with his own gun, police said.

McGurk said he wants to move forward with plans to make the borough building safe.

“We could do that with no problem,” he said. “But we wondered if constituents might think it's like Fort Knox. It's not uncommon in municipalities to have longstanding issues with residents.”

Residents upset over property issues come into the Moon municipal building every day, township manager Jeanne Crease said. “These issues are very emotional to people,” she said.

Police attend Leetsdale and Moon officials' monthly meetings as a safety precaution and occasionally to participate in the proceedings.

While no major incidents have occurred in Moon, Crease said, a speaker alarmed administrators and elected officials at a meeting last year.

“A resident signed up to speak and, at the end of the meeting, came up to address the board, put a pair of dark sunglasses on and blue rubber gloves,” she said. “He was speaking unclear but was referencing an abortion issue.

“Just by the nature of his behavior, it was very alarming.”

Moon's police chief stood behind the speaker until he was finished, Crease said. “It was a vivid reminder to us of how vulnerable we are,” she said.

In Sewickley, the borough building is open but secure as residents travel between the two main floors, borough manager Kevin Flannery said.

Cameras placed around the building help police and leaders keep an eye on safety, he said. Flannery said more cameras could be added.

But, he said, incidents such as the shooting “could happen anywhere.”

David Sanko, who heads the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said municipal officials are “on the front lines, protecting their communities and the health and safety of their residents.”

“Sometimes, the front line is a dangerous place. Danger, while rare, is at times the price of public service.”

In Moon and Robinson, administrators work behind secure areas, leaders said.

Providing for the safety of Leetsdale employees is one reason McGurk said leaders there could discuss improving security.

Limiting access to local government in the name of safety could be a disservice to residents, Crease said.

“That's what makes this country what it is — that you can walk into a local meeting and talk to your elected officials,” she said. “You can't walk into the state House or a courthouse with a gun. But it's not that way on the local level.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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