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Family dispute leaves 4 dead near Altoona

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Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 9:39 a.m.
 

John and Roberta Frew led a quiet life in rural Cambria County that was shattered with the arrival of their estranged daughter and her husband at the modest, vinyl-sided home.

Police said John Frew told them that two intruders broke into his Allegheny Township home Friday night and fatally shot his wife and son. Frew, 67, in turn, shot the intruders, police said. Frew then called 911.

The intruders were his daughter, Josephine Ruckinger, and her husband, Jeff, both of Blandburg.

State police have yet to release the names of those involved, though their identities were confirmed by town residents and family members.

Jeff Ruckinger, 55, died at the scene; Josephine Ruckinger, who was shot in the head, died at Altoona UPMC Trauma Center.

Police are trying to determine a motive for the shootings.

“We really don't know yet about the details of the shooting,” said Brian Ruckinger, 46, of Altoona. He said he knew his brother and his sister-in-law had problems with her family.

Police found the body of Roberta Frew, 64, in the front door and the body of John Frew Jr., 47, in the kitchen. Jeff Ruckinger's body was found in the kitchen, and Josephine Ruckinger, who was still alive, was found in the living room.

State police have planned a news conference at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Ebensburg barracks.

The younger Frew was recovering from knee surgery and had been visiting his parents from his nearby home along Bottom Road, less than a mile off Route 53, just outside Ashville.

“John was a pretty serious man. I liked John a lot. I miss him,” said Larry Shomo of Dysart.

Shomo attends Richland Bible Church, about 15 miles from the Frew home, where Frew Jr. was a deacon.

Roberta Frew's sister, Virginia Cruse, told The Associated Press that Josephine Ruckinger harbored “a hatred toward her family.” She said the estrangement began when Josephine Ruckinger was 20; she trashed the family's home, stole some valuables and headed to Pittsburgh.

A search of court records found no criminal record for Josephine Ruckinger.

Brian Ruckinger said his brother and sister-in-law had been married for a few years and had no children.

The shootings were the talk of Ashville, a town with a population of about 230, as people went about their business along Liberty Street, the main road. It is lined with taverns, auto-repair shops and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and enveloped by tree-covered hills.

Joe Speranza, an employee at JoeLynn's Deli & Pizza and Gulf gas station on Liberty, described Ashville as a “very quiet town” with mainly retirees and some railroad workers.

“It's an older town. There's no industry here,” he said. “Gosh no, we're not used to this. It's very unusual for this to happen over here. You would never think anything like this would happen.”

The victims' home, accented by black shutters, sits back from Bottom Road, almost obscured by trees. Two vehicles were parked outside, but no one answered the white front door — a door marred by a faint trace of what appeared to be blood.

John and Roberta Frew were friendly but not outgoing, said Bill Dibert, a church deacon.

Some people said they had not seen them for decades, although John Frew Jr. was known to drop off freshly laid eggs — at no charge — at a local funeral home where he had a pre-paid plan.

Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski's office did not return telephone calls seeking comment. District Attorney Kelli Callihan also could not be reached.

Jeff Ruckinger worked as a truck mechanic, his brother said.

John Frew Jr. was a self-employed electrician. An avid hunter, he fell in a groundhog hole and injured his knees. He had recently undergone surgery, Shomo said.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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