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Fear Among Pa.'s Local Leaders After Mass Shooting at Township Meeting

A mass shooting at a Monroe County municipal building has local leaders asking how to keep public meetings safe.

Upper Macungie Supervisor Sam Ashmar said a shooting at a township meeting is "something you can't anticipate."
Upper Macungie Supervisor Sam Ashmar said a shooting at a township meeting is "something you can't anticipate."
By Lehigh Valley Patch Staff

A disgruntled "junk collector" whose property was condemned is the suspect in a mass shooting at the Ross Township municipal building in Monroe County on Monday.

A supervisor from a neighboring township and two residents were gunned down. Two other people were injured. Alleged shooter Rockne Newell, 59, is charged with the killings and is in prison.

Now local leaders are asking what can be done to keep public meetings and municipal buildings safe.

"Sure everyone's scared. Hopefully, it never happens here," said Salisbury Township manager Randy Soriano. "We're in the process of security upgrades here at the township building. But state law says that anyone can bring a licensed firearm into any public meeting."

Police officers don't guard Salisbury's twice-a-month commissioners meetings, but the police chief usually attends.

Upper Macungie Township Supervisor Sam Ashmar sent an email to departments heads Tuesday, noting that all employees need to be vigilant if a resident or visitor appears to be a threat to their safety.

"It's something you can't anticipate," Ashmar said. "I don't think that can be prevented anywhere, even with safeguards in place. It's difficult to predict who is unstable and going walk into a meeting to shoot people."

Emmaus, meanwhile, is "actually in the design process of changing a number of offices in town hall, including improving security measures for employees," according to Borough Manager Shane Pepe.

“The shooting in Ross Township is truly a tragic situation,” Pepe says. “It was the first topic of conversation that employees wanted to discuss this morning when we came into the office. 

Officials in Lower Macungie Township may take another look at meeting security.

"This is tragic and a stark reminder of how vulnerable municipal officials are. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims," Lower Macungie Commissioner Ryan Conrad posted on Facebook. 

Conrad wrote, "We've considered added security measures at our meetings in the past but weren't sure how necessary they were and also hated the idea of making it more cumbersome to attend our meetings given the level of apathy that already exists. We have to revisit this topic."

As officials investigate Monday's shooting, they say alleged gunman Newell has been fighting with township officials for years about his dilapidated property, where human feces were found in buckets in 2009, according to the Pocono Record.

The gunman began shooting into the meeting room at 7:15 p.m. while about 18 people were inside, WFMZ reports.

Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber described hearing 10 shots and seeing plaster fly off the walls.

Some people hid behind a table. Reber was able to crawl out a side door and hide behind an SUV, where he watched as Newell went out to a car to get a second gun.

A township official and a resident tackled Newell when he came back into the building. 

Two people died at the scene; a third died after being flown to St. Luke's University Hospital in Fountain Hill, according to the Express Times.

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