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Blair County's Geeseytown puzzled by deadly shooting spree

Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Mourners embrace inside the Geeseytown Evangelical Lutheran Church near Duncansville on December 22, 2012.

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By Paul Peirce and Kari Andren
Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

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.”

Investigation ongoing

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.

 

 
 


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