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Standoff Drags On With Suspect in Upstate N.Y. Slayings

7:19 AM, Mar 14, 2013   |    comments
Emergency crews secure the scene of a shooting at Gaffey's Fast Lube in Herkimer, N.Y., on March 13. Two people were fatally shot by a gunman who is believed to have killed two other people in the nearby Mohawk.(Photo: Rocco Laduca, (Utica, N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch, via AP)
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Jon Campbell and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

HERKIMER, N.Y. - Police Wednesday night continued to surround a building in an Upstate New York village where the man suspected of killing four men and wounding two others was holed up after the morning shooting spree.

SWAT officers, snipers and an armored vehicle zeroed in on a shuttered bar on the main street of Herkimer, about 65 miles east of Syracuse in the historic Mohawk Valley region. Police said the suspect, 64-year-old Kurt Myers, of neighboring Mohawk, was believed to be in a vacant apartment above a former bar.

A gunman inside fired several shots at police as they searched downtown buildings early in the afternoon. At least one officer returned fire; there has been silence ever since.

As the standoff dragged on late into the night, police said they were uncertain whether Myers was alive or dead.

"We're in no rush to bring this to a conclusion," New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said at a 5 p.m. news conference, adding that the safety of police officers was the top concern.

Myers is wanted for the shotgun slayings of two men and the wounding of two others at John's Barber Shop, around the corner from his home, then driving about a mile and gunning down two more men at Gaffney's Fast Lube in Herkimer, across the Mohawk River. Officers later found hIs maroon Jeep abandoned.

Joseph Malone, chief of police for the two villages, described Myers as "armed and extremely dangerous." Neighbors and other residents described him as a loner who never spoke to them.

"He came out of nowhere. He was not on our radar," Malone told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. Myers' only previous arrest was for driving while intoxicated in 1973.

Little was known about Myers or what led to the bloodshed.

At the evening news briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there was "no apparent, rational motive, to the best of our knowledge at this time, to provoke these attacks."

"This is truly an inexplicable situation," he said.

Police identified the men slain at the barbershop as Harry Montgomery, 68, of Mohawk, and Michael Ransear, 57, a retired prison guard from Herkimer. The shop owner, John Seymour, and a customer, Dan Haslauer, were listed in critical condition at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Utica.

The victims at the oil-change shop were identified as employee Thomas Stefka, in his 60s, and Michael Renshaw, in his 40s, who was a 23-year veteran prison guard who worked at Mid-State Correctional Facility.

Police said Myers began the day about 9:30 a.m. by setting fire to his apartment in the rear of a three-unit building directly across the street from the police and fire departments. Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 90 minutes.

Investigators found several weapons and ammunition inside, but police have not said whether they belonged to Myers.

During the frantic manhunt, which involved several erroneous sightings of Myers, SWAT teams and other officers were fired on from an abandoned building on North Main Street about 1:30 p.m., said D'Amico, the state police chief.

WKTV reported that police had surrounded the now-closed Glory Days Food and Spirits and were using a battering ram. The station said police were trying communicating with someone inside, and a resident told the Associated Press that he overhead police trying to coax Myers into coming out.

A bartender who served Myers for a decade described him as a loner who was pleasant to staff but "very jittery and nervous."

"He just wasn't a people person, and he would never talk to anyone else," Michele Mlinar, told the Observer-Dispatch.

A neighbor on the close-knit block of South Washington Street also said Myers kept to himself and rarely exchanged pleasantries.

"Everybody says hi and waves and has small talk all the time," said Fred Randall, 42, a retired Air Force technical sergeant whose home is next to Myers' building. "But he would walk by. People would say hi, and he would never return the gesture."

The heavy presence of state and local police, including a police helicopter, brought the village of 10,000 to a standstill.

Local schools were locked down, and Herkimer County Community College warned students not to come to campus. Those who are there were told to "shelter in place until further notice," according to the college's website.

Troopers carefully checked cars leaving the area on the county's main highway, but were also alert to the possibility that the suspect was on foot after abandoning his vehicle, which was spotted at both shootings.

At one point in the afternoon search, as onlookers crowded around Herkimer's blocked-off downtown, witnesses heard at least one loud "bang" near Weisser's Jewelers on North Main Street, followed quickly by what sounded like gunfire.

SWAT officers swarmed outside the jewelry store, their rifles trained on a nearby building.

"It's just a laid-back town, really," said 20-year-old Zack Burks, who was among those who heard gunfire. "It's a college town. You've got your occasional drama that goes on, but nothing like this at all."

Outside the state police barracks, Mlinar, who works at Cangee's Bar and Grill in Herkimer, said she "got sick to my stomach" when she saw Myers' picture. "It could have been here. It could have been us," she told the Utica newspaper.

Greg Beasley, 70, who owns an electronics store in downtown Herkimer, said the afternoon gunshots "got my attention."

"I can throw a rock and hit the building over there, so those gunshots, I was very attentive and on guard," he said.

"It's amazing they haven't caught them because we got half the police force of New York State right in our little village," Beasley said.

An antiques dealer described the scene as "chaotic."

"There's been a lot of tragedy and death," said Tom Noddings, 63, owner of Mohawk Valley Antiques, which is across the street from the barbershop where the shootings took place.

"There are people all over the place, and there's so much rumor going around about - he's here, he's there, he's been there - it's just crazy."

"It's very unusual for our small community to have such a horrific situation happen," said Herkimer County Legislator Robert Schrader, 49, who represents Herkimer village and town. "It's a very nice community. We have never had anything like this happen, not in my lifetime."

The barbershop and auto shop slayings are the third mass shootings of 2013.

The FBI defines a mass killing as when four or more people are killed. There have been 201 such cases since 2006 in the United States.

What police say was an attempted apartment robbery in Tulsa ended with four women slain in January. Police have arrested two brothers, both of whom have been charged with murder.

Later that month, a 15-year-old boy was charged with five counts of murder after his family was found shot at their Albuquerque home.

Jon Campbell works for the Gannett Albany Bureau. Contributing: Donna Leinwand Leger and Meghan Hoyer, USA TODAY; Jessica Bakeman, of the Gannett Albany Bureau; the Associated Press.


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