HERKIMER, N.Y. – A man neighbors said rarely spoke to them started a fire in his apartment on Wednesday, shot four people dead at a couple of businesses in his hometown and a neighboring village and then exchanged gunfire with police officers who surrounded an abandoned building where he apparently was holed up, authorities said.
Police officers were fired on from the upstate New York building on Wednesday afternoon while looking for 64-year-old Kurt Myers, state police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said. At least one officer returned fire, and later it was unknown if Myers was still alive, D’Amico said.
“We’re in no rush to bring this to a conclusion,” D’Amico said, adding that the main objective was to make sure no one else was hurt.
Police said Myers’ rampage started with a fire in his apartment in the nearby village of Mohawk at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. D’Amico said Myers then drove to John’s Barber Shop around the corner and used a shotgun to kill two customers, whom he identified as Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, a retired corrections officer. The shop’s owner, John Seymour, and another customer, Dan Haslauer, were listed in critical condition at a Utica hospital.
D’Amico said the gunman then drove to Gaffy’s Fast Lube in nearby Herkimer and used the shotgun to kill Thomas Stefka, an employee, and Michael Renshaw, a customer who was a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a press conference in Herkimer, called it “truly an inexplicable situation.”
“There’s no apparent motive to the best of our knowledge at this time to provoke these attacks,” he said.
D’Amico said police had not had any communication with Myers, whose only known police record was a 1973 drunken-driving arrest.
Police positioned in front of a block of small businesses topped with apartments in the village of Herkimer were still looking for Myers on Wednesday evening.
A local businessman, jeweler Fred Weisser, said police were trying to get people out while Myers was believed to be in a building next door.
“They’re sending in a robot to check the place out,” he said by telephone. “I guess we’re stuck. We’re between him and the cops. I don’t want to step out and get clipped by a sniper.”
Myles Smith, who lives in one of the apartments above the shops, said by cellphone he had heard police trying to talk to Myers.
“The snipers on the roof are sitting there,” Smith said. “I ain’t seen a whole lot of movement. I heard about five gunshots. I keep hearing them trying to talk him out, but I don’t think he’s coming out.”
The rear of the small building where Myers lived was burned out, and police continued to guard the building, where they found guns and ammunition. It was unclear if they were in his apartment.
Neighbors said they barely knew Myers, who rarely spoke, left every morning in his red Jeep and came back.
Traci Randall said the only time she remembers speaking to her next-door neighbor was when he yelled at her son because he thought he had shot an air pellet at his Jeep.
“He would walk by himself. He was kind of a loner. No wife,” she said.
Neighbors said he never had visitors or friends. Gary Urich said Myers wouldn’t even say much as `Hi’ to him when walking by his porch.
“I said, `How are you doing?’ No response. He just walked by,” he said.
Michele Mlinar, a bartender at Cangee’s Bar and Grille in Herkimer, said Myers frequently went in and had a bottle or two of Coors Light and left without speaking to anyone. She said he was always alone and she didn’t even know his name until police released his mug shot on Wednesday.
Cangee’s owner Candy Rellin called Myers “just an odd little man.”
The two villages are about 65 miles east of Syracuse, on opposite sides of the Mohawk River in a region known as the Mohawk Valley.
James Baron, the mayor of Mohawk described his village as close-knit and friendly, “the kind of place where you’d say, `Oh, it would never happen here.”‘
Elizabeth Cirelli was shocked by Stefka’s slaying. He was a neighbor in Herkimer.
“He was a great guy, a really nice person. This is horrific. We really couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Herkimer County Community College lifted a lockdown during the afternoon, and all but a few schools near the scene also were releasing students. D’Amico said most of the three-block neighborhood around the search scene was evacuated.
Herkimer is a village of 7,700 named for the German immigrant family that settled in the western Mohawk Valley in the 1720s. The economically distressed villages are 2 miles away from Ilion, where a 2-century-old Remington Arms gun plant is a major employer.