Blair County's Geeseytown puzzled by deadly shooting spree
GEESEYTOWN — Stunned members of this Blair County community gathered on Saturday night for a vigil for three people gunned down during a rampage on Friday as puzzled police investigators searched for answers.
“It's hard. It's OK to cry. It's OK to wonder why,” the Rev. Michael Rhyne said in Geeseytown Lutheran Church, about three miles from where unemployed truck driver Jeffrey Lee Michael began a shooting spree that left two men and a woman dead and three state troopers wounded.
Police said Michael, 44, loaded his pickup with weapons, fired at Juniata Valley Gospel Church across from his home, then entered and killed church volunteer Kimberly A. Scott, 58, of Duncansville.
Michael then gunned down two of his neighbors, Ken Lynn, 60, and Lynn's son-in-law, William “Bill” Rhodes Jr., 38. Each victim died of a single gunshot.
“We still have no idea at this point” what set Michael off, said Trooper David McGarvey, a state police spokesman in Hollidaysburg, Blair County. “All that we know is that two of his victims are neighbors.”
Michael died in a shootout with three state troopers, police said.
“God gives us the freedom to choose, and some people make terrible, terrible choices,” Rhyne told more than 150 people in the church sanctuary. Others listened from an overflow room downstairs.
Many wore Boy Scout uniforms, including Rhodes' son Zachary and fellow Troop 32 members from Hollidaysburg.
“It's important for the troop to pull together to let them know we are there,” said one father, Kevin Guthrie of Duncansville.
At Michael's home on Saturday, an unlit artificial Christmas tree could be seen through a picture window facing the church where he killed Scott. A woman who answered the door had tears running down her cheeks as she said, “I'm so sorry, but I just can't talk right now.”
At the church, a plastic sheet covered the window in a door shattered by a bullet. Someone had tucked two bouquets of roses in the door handle in memory of Scott. Yellow crime-scene tape marked the empty church.
A records searched turned up two traffic tickets Michael received since 2009, but little else.
No one answered the door at either Lynn's or Rhodes' home, and Scott's relatives could not be reached.
‘It could have been us'
Ashlee Clark, a neighbor of Michael's, said he was “wigging out, acting strange” on the day before the shootings.
Clark said it appears Michael randomly selected his victims.
“People around here had a lot of trouble sleeping last night,” she said. “It could have been us.”
“Everybody's still in a state of shock,” said Rhyne, pastor of Geeseytown and Newry Lutheran churches. “No one ever expected this to happen here. This is a good, loving community.
“The fact that this happened is so very heart-breaking,” he said. “Especially a week after the Sandy Hook (Elementary School shooting).”
The rampage occurred a week after gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother, then began an assault in a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children and seven adults dead. Lanza then fatally shot himself.
Michael worked as a truck driver until about eight or nine months ago, when he was hurt in a traffic accident, said Ron Miller, who runs Miller's Garage on Juniata Valley Road, about a quarter-mile from Michael's home at 107 Lower Reese Road.
“This is just unbelievable,” Miller said. “You see this stuff on television, but I guess you never know what might happen.”
Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross and District Attorney Rich Consiglio ruled Michael's death was justifiable homicide, according to a release. Results of his autopsy were unavailable.
Police gave no details on the weapons involved but said they would trace the origin of each. Investigators used metal detectors outside Juniata Valley Gospel Church on Saturday morning to search for spent shells.
Police gave this version of the violence:
Michael first fatally shot Scott as she was decorating the church for a children's party. Her husband, Ed, owns an automobile dealership in Duncansville, which was closed on Saturday.
Then Michael used a pistol to gun down Lynn in the driveway of his Juniata Valley Road home as he tried to flee. His cousins said Lynn was leaving to go Christmas shopping with his wife.
Michael then drove north in his pickup. He intentionally rammed into another truck driven by Rhodes, who worked at a Hollidaysburg construction company. Relatives said Rhodes was at a stop sign when Michael rammed his truck and then shot him. Rhodes died of blunt-force trauma and the gunshot, police said.
Michael got back in his truck and continued north, where he encountered two southbound state police cars.
“When passing the troopers, Michael fired upon both cruisers, striking both police cars,” police said.
Police pursued. Michael's truck then collided head-on with another police cruiser.
“A second cruiser struck Michael's truck from behind,” police said. “Jeffrey Lee Michael exited his vehicle and fired upon the three troopers.”
They returned fire, killing him.
The troopers were treated for minor injuries in Altoona Hospital and released on Friday.
Paul Peirce and Kari Andren are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Peirce can be reached at 724-850-2860. Andren can be reached at 724-850-2856.Staff writer Renatta Signorini contributed to this story.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Institutionalized Westmoreland man, 2 others, file suit, claim lack of programs
- Family of man accused of shooting St. Clair officer say allegations don’t fit his character
- Latrobe City Council OKs sale of Old Athletic Field for new elementary school
- 40 years later, siblings of South Greensburg girl who disappeared still seek closure
- Re-enactor commits to pioneer lifestyle in Murrysville cabin
- Jeannette trudges through blight
- Contractor eyes early finish to work on New Stanton interchange of Interstate 70
- 2 Greensburg properties left on demo list
- Mt. Pleasant Guard unit may be deployed again
- Former Hempfield Area director makes guest appearance at University of Alabama
- Family collecting donations for Salem man seriously injured in deer stand fall