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Anonymous tip led to arrest of suspect in Route 30 shootings

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 9:19 p.m.

An anonymous tip helped police identify a man accused of shooting a small-caliber rifle at vehicles, signs and a building in Hempfield Township.

Michael Wayne Ghrist, 19, of 322 Rear Spring Ave., Greensburg, was arraigned late New Year's Eve in Westmoreland County Night Court on four counts of aggravated assault, five counts of reckless endangerment and seven counts of criminal mischief.

State police at Greensburg allege Ghrist took a .22-caliber rifle to Sacred Heart Cemetery, located off Route 30 near Possum Hollow Road, on Dec. 26 and randomly fired shots toward the highway.

Four vehicles traveling in the eastbound and westbound lanes were hit in a 10-minute span that began at 9 p.m., according to a police affidavit. No one was injured, but each vehicle sustained damages, including bullet holes.

Police said an anonymous tipster lead them to Ghrist, but they also said evidence connected to the shootings was discovered during an unrelated criminal investigation in the city of Greensburg.

City police said Ghrist was picked up Dec. 29 on an arrest warrant stemming from a Dec. 10 theft charge. The theft charge was filed for alleged unauthorized use of a bank card. Police said Ghrist faces a preliminary hearing before District Justice James Albert, of Greensburg, later this month on the theft charge.

State police said it was during the theft investigation that witnesses and unspecified evidence in the shooting spree were discovered.

Although Ghrist resides in the city, state police said he was a guest at a residence in Hempfield Highlands mobile home park at the time of the shootings. The park is located within walking distance of the cemetery.

State police said they picked up Ghrist in the city and that he admitted to the shootings. They said he also took them to his Greensburg apartment, where a .22-caliber rifle believed to have been used in the shootings was recovered.

Investigators also recovered bullet fragments and .22-caliber shell casings from locations in and around the cemetery.

In addition to the four vehicles, Ghrist shot at a maintenance building on the cemetery grounds and a sign for the mobile home park, police said. Investigators have determined bullet holes in both structures were caused by a .22-caliber weapon.

Police allege Ghrist also fired shots at property owned by PennDOT, but the affidavit was nonspecific as to the type of property targeted.

Ghrist was arraigned before District Justice Mark Bilik, of Derry Township, and lodged in the Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $50,000 bond.

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