The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

March 14, 2013

Ex-boss: NY rampage suspect was ’spooky’ recently

HERKIMER, N.Y. — Police SWAT teams navigated a cluttered, abandoned bar to find the suspect in four fatal shootings holed up in a small room, killing him in a shootout early Thursday with officers after a nearly 19-hour standoff that paralyzed an upstate New York village.

Why Kurt Myers, described as a loner, went on the shooting rampage the day before remained a mystery.

A man who worked for 20 years with Myers said that he was intelligent, quiet and a good worker who got along well with colleagues, but that he was “spooky” recently.

Steve Copperwheat, who hired Myers as a machine operator in the early 1980s at Waterbury Felt, a manufacturer of industrial textiles, said he encountered him in a Wal-Mart parking lot three months ago after not seeing him in about 10 years.

“I yelled over to him and he looked at me, said my name, said he was retired, and just went booking away,” Copperwheat said. “It was almost like he didn’t want anybody to know where he was. He was trying to be very distant, which surprised me. The whole conversation was really spooky.”

Myers was killed Thursday morning by police in a building where he had hidden since Wednesday morning’s rampage.

State police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said state police and FBI tactical teams entered the first floor of a building in Herkimer around 8 a.m. to end the standoff with Myers, 64, of neighboring Mohawk. Myers opened fire through a door at officers, killing an FBI dog, D’Amico said.

Police returned fire, killing Myers, he said. No officers were injured.

Myers’ death ended a nearly 24-hour ordeal that engulfed the Mohawk Valley villages, where police say Myers killed four men and two wounded two others at a barbershop in Mohawk and a car care business in Herkimer.

D’Amico said police still don’t know why Myers went to the two small businesses and opened fire with a shotgun. He called the attacks “unprovoked and random.”

“He’s apparently a loner,” D’Amico said. “He didn’t have a lot of contact with his family. The few people we did find that were relatives — we interviewed some neighbors — nobody could offer any explanation.”

Authorities said Myers opened fire on police at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday along a block in Herkimer as they searched for him. They surrounded an abandoned bar called Glory Days where they believed he was holed up. Police had said earlier they were willing to wait out Myers. But Thursday morning, they sent in the SWAT teams.

“It just seemed like the appropriate time,” D’Amico said.

Police said Myers’ rampage started with a fire in his apartment in the nearby village of Mohawk at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

He then drove to John’s Barber Shop around the corner and used a shotgun to kill two customers, D’Amico said, identifying them as Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, a retired corrections officer. In addition to Seymour, the shop’s owner, another customer, Dan Haslauer, also was listed in critical condition at a Utica hospital.

The gunman then drove to Gaffey’s Fast Lube in nearby Herkimer and used the shotgun to kill Michael Renshaw and Thomas Stefka. Renshaw was a 23-year employee of the state corrections department who worked at Mid-State Correctional Facility near Utica. Stefka worked at Gaffey’s and attended Mohawk Reform Church, where he played guitar during services.

John Seymour, one of the men wounded in the attacks told his sister, Mary Hornett, the barbershop attack came out of nowhere.

“He just said that the guys were in the barbershop and this guy comes in and he says, ‘Hi John, do you remember me?’ and my brother said, ‘Yes, Kurt, how are you?’ and then he just started shooting,” Hornett said.

Hornett said her brother, who was hospitalized in critical condition, was doing well after being shot in the left hand and right hip.

“My brother couldn’t think of any reason why he would do such a thing,” she said of Myers, a former customer who hadn’t been in the shop for a couple of years.

The shootings shattered the peace and rattled the nerves of Mohawk and Herkimer, two small villages about 170 miles northwest of New York City, separated from each other by the Mohawk River and the New York State Thruway.

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.

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 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 two miles away from Ilion, where a 2-century-old Remington Arms gun plant is a major employer.

 

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