Gunman arraigned, victims remembered in municipal building shooting

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. - August 6, 2013

59-year-old Rockne Newell is charged with killing Chestnuthill Township Supervisor David Fleetwood, 53-year-old Gerard Kozic, and 64-year-old James LaGuardia.

Kozic's wife, Linda, 61-year-old Frank Pirano Jr., and 55-year-old Township Supervisor Howard Beers were wounded in the mass shooting at the township building, where a monthly meeting was underway.

Newell was arraigned via video Tuesday morning. He is charged with three counts of criminal homicide, two counts of attempted criminal homicide, and two counts of aggravated assault.

At the arraignment, a judge asked if he owned any property, to which Newell responded: "No, they stole it from me. That's what started all this."

Newell had been in a bitter fight with the township over his dilapidated property on Flyte Road.

The township had recently condemned the property, and Newell was forced to move. State police say as Newell was taken into custody, he blurted out, "I wish I killed more of them."

Newell's father, Pete Newell, says his son had been planning the rampage for some time and Newell allegedly told detectives he knew Monday night would be his only opportunity to get all the township officials in one place.

The shooting happened around 7:20 p.m. Monday at the Ross Township municipal building in Saylorsburg, Monroe County. 15 to 18 people were inside for the monthly township supervisor meeting when the gunfire erupted.

State police say Newell walked up to the front of the building and opened fire with a Ruger Mini-14 .223 caliber rifle. Bullets shot through a window, passed through an office and into the meeting room where the township supervisors meeting was being held. Newell then allegedly went to a side door and fired several additional rounds with the rifle into the meeting room before retreating from the door, firing more shots at the front door of the building. In all 28 rounds were shot from the rifle.

Chris Reber, a reporter for The Pocono Record, was inside when shots rang out.

"I ran out after the first round of shooting. I dropped to the floor. That's what everyone did. ... Then it stopped and I crawled out the side door," Reber told the newspaper. "I was the only person who crawled out. Everyone got behind a table. Some of the supervisors were over on the side throwing up."

Newell then returned to the building after allegedly placing the rifle in his car and retrieving a .44 Magnum revolver.

According to State Police, Newell entered the building through the front door and walked toward the meeting room. When he opened the door to the meeting room, he was tackled by West End Open Space Commission Executive Director Bernie Kozen and another man, identified as resident Mark Kresh. The men managed to wrestle Newell to the ground, all awhile he was allegedly firing the weapon. In the struggle Newell was shot in the leg with his own gun.

While being transported to the hospital, investigators reported Newell said, "I wish I killed more of them."

According to the affidavit, when investigators met with Newell at the hospital he said he specifically targeted the meeting because it was the only time he could get all of the township supervisors and the solicitor in a single location. He also said he planned to shoot the solicitor and the supervisors before taking his own life.

Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents the state's 17th District, said he was "stunned and appalled at the atrocities that claimed the lives of innocent citizens in Ross Township." He said he had heard about what Kozen did to prevent more bloodshed.

"Mr. Kozen is a true hero tonight," Cartwright said in an emailed statement.

A very emotional Kozen arrived back at the municipal building Tuesday morning. When asked to comment on the incident, he told Action News off camera, "I'm sorry. I just can't right now."

Ross Township resident Henry McCormick said he knew Newell, and that he is not surprised by what happened.

"You think about it like this - he thought about it all that time. And realistically speaking, I guess the way he's looking at it is, you done took everything away from me anyway so what do I have left," McCormick said.

State police said Newell had a long-running dispute with township officials over his dilapidated property, located at 293 Flyte Road in Saylorsburg - just a short distance away from the municipal building. He said he lived on Social Security and could not afford to clean it.

Newell's property includes an old camper in the front yard filled with wooden pallets, pieces of what appear to be old railroad ties and trash. A garage leans and appears close to collapse, and a propane tank sits inside an old dog house.

Township supervisors voted in February 2012 to take legal action against Newell for violating zoning and sewer regulations, according to meeting minutes posted online.

Last October, Newell set up a fundraising page online and was trying to raise $10,000 to pay for legal fees in his fight with the township.

"Ross Township took me to court and the court ruled I have to vacate my home of 20 years," he wrote on the page called saveRockyshome. "I live on SSI which comes to $600 a month I have no money to clean it up."

In June, the Pocono Record wrote a story about what it said was an 18-year fight between the township and Newell over his property.

Monroe County Court sided with the township in August 2012 and ordered Newell to vacate and never again occupy or use the property unless he had the permits to do so. The report said Newell had been living out of a car, a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, and in abandoned buildings since being ordered to vacate.

Newell told the paper he was unemployed for years after an injury from a crash and had nowhere else to go.

"They have no right to kick me off my property," he told the newspaper. "They call my property an eyesore. When I bought it, it was one of only three properties on the entire road that didn't have what they call junk."

Newell was treated at the hospital Monday night then released into police custody.

State police are still investigating at the municipal building and are searching Newell's home. Investigators are also in the process of obtaining search warrants on a second property where it is believed Newell has been living.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.