No one mentioned Rockne Newell or the three murders he allegedly committed last month at the township’s meeting Tuesday night, but the massacre was on everyone’s minds and surfaced in several actions the board of supervisors took Tuesday night in Ross Township.
It started with board chairman Howard Beers Jr. offering a moment of silence for “those affected by the events of Aug. 5.” Actually, it started even sooner with a decision to hold the meeting at the county’s 911 emergency dispatch center, not the site of the shooting.
It surfaced with a decision to hire a security guard from Legion Security, Wilkes-Barre, at $17 an hour for 22 hours a week or whenever there is a township meeting or gathering at the township building.
The board also announced it was moving forward with plans to build a new municipal building not far from the building where Newell allegedly sprayed the room with bullets, first from a rifle, then a handgun, about 20 minutes into the meeting, yelling a profanity-laced rant, “You took my property.”
The township intends to apply for grant money to help in the construction costs. Estimates were not available and an architectural firm, Schoonover & Vanderhoof Architects of East Stroudsburg, was retained to draw up plans.
Ross Township, a rural area of winding roads and thick woods in the Poconos, became national news four weeks ago when a township resident unhappy with the township showed up at the municipal building allegedly looking to kill the people he thought had done him wrong.
Newell, who had a long-running feud with the supervisors over a ramshackle property deep in the woods where he lived in a shed and used a bucket for a toilet, gunned down township zoning officer, Dave Fleetwood, 62, one of the prime movers in the township’s push to get Newell off his property. Investigators have said Fleetwood pushed two women out of the line of gunfire and was shot and killed in the process, the women later told investigators.
In another consequence of the shooting, the supervisors hired Paul Jarrett, owner of Lehigh Valley Inspection Service, to replace Fleetwood as zoning officer.
Newell, who is being held without bail in the Monroe County Correctional Facility, is also accused of gunning down James V. LaGuardia, 64, and Gerard J. Kozic, 53, both of Saylorsburg. The district attorney’s office has said it will seek the death penalty.
Beers had been asked moments earlier by a Philadelphia TV reporter before the meeting began if he would share his feelings. “Not really,” Beers said. He added he did not want to “rehash old news.”
His attempts to avoid reliving the shooting were rebuffed when a line of reporters with TV cameras and microphones stood in front of him at the supervisors’ table.
Off to the side, township secretary Doris Price dabbed tears from her eyes as she listened to the questions.
“Please, John, make it stop,” she asked board solicitor John Dunn, one of the people Newell allegedly wanted to shoot. Dunn paced back and forth, shaking his head.