HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. – The shooting of a man who went on a rampage in central Pennsylvania, killing two neighbors and a third person before wounding three state troopers during a gunbattle, was a justifiable homicide, authorities ruled Saturday.
Investigators are still trying to figure out what set off the gunman, identified as 44-year-old Jeffrey Lee Michael of Geeseytown, a tiny village about 70 miles west of Harrisburg, the state capital.
"We're not sure of the motive. We'll be trying to find out by talking to people who knew him, see if he gave any indication," Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said of the violence, which began Friday morning in Frankstown Township and spanned five separate crime scenes across a 1.5-mile area.
Authorities said Michael knew his two males victims, who were related to each other, but investigators do not yet know whether he knew the third, a woman who was slain while decorating a church hall for a children's Christmas party.
Michael fired into the Juniata Valley Gospel Church from outside, then entered the church and fired again, killing Kimberly Scott, 58, of Duncansville, State Police Sgt. Gregory Bernard said.
Either shortly before or after that, Kenneth Lynn, 60, a neighbor of Michael's, was shot in the driveway of his home, authorities said.
Bernard said Michael drove his pickup truck along rural Juniata Valley Road and intentionally rammed another pickup driven by Lynn's son-in-law, 38-year-old William Rhodes Jr. Rhodes died of blunt force trauma from the crash and from a gunshot wound, police said.
Michael was leaving the area in his truck when he saw two state police cars heading his way, and he opened fire as he was passing them, police said. One round went through the windshield of one of the patrol cars, and a trooper was injured in the face by flying glass and possibly a graze from the bullet, they said.
Both troopers turned around and pursued the suspect, and a third patrol car arrived and tried to block the path of the pickup, which rammed the car head-on, injuring the trooper driving, police said. One of the other patrol cars then rammed the back of the suspect's truck, and a gunfight with the first two troopers ensued. One was hit in the chest and wrist.
"His body armor saved his life," Bernard said.
The suspect was struck by police gunfire and was pronounced dead at the scene. The three troopers were treated at a hospital but are expected to be all right, authorities said.
The district attorney's office classified Michael's death as a justifiable homicide and said it would not pursue criminal charges against the troopers.
Police have not released information about the weapon or weapons used by Michael. Bernard said police had had some contact with Michael but declined to go into detail.
"We've had other incidents, but nothing to this extent," the sergeant said. Online court records show no criminal record for him in Pennsylvania or in the state's federal courts.