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As bullets flew, 'I jumped him from behind,' says man who tackled shooter

By Poppy Harlow. Ashley Fantz and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
Bernie Kozen stands near the scene of Monday's shooting on Tuesday, August 6, in rural Pennsylvania. Kozen, a local parks director, is being hailed as a hero for stopping the alleged gunman, <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/06/justice/pennsylvania-town-hall-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t2'>Rockne Newell, who opened fire </a>at a town council meeting in Ross Township on Monday night, August 5, killing three people, police said. Newell had been in an ongoing feud over property rights with the township's board of supervisors. Bernie Kozen stands near the scene of Monday's shooting on Tuesday, August 6, in rural Pennsylvania. Kozen, a local parks director, is being hailed as a hero for stopping the alleged gunman, Rockne Newell, who opened fire at a town council meeting in Ross Township on Monday night, August 5, killing three people, police said. Newell had been in an ongoing feud over property rights with the township's board of supervisors.
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Townhall meeting turns deadly in Pennsylvania
Townhall meeting turns deadly in Pennsylvania
Townhall meeting turns deadly in Pennsylvania
Townhall meeting turns deadly in Pennsylvania
Town hall meeting turns deadly in Pennsylvania
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
Alleged Pennsylvania shooter's property
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Suspect to CNN affiliate: "They tormented me for 23 years. I couldn't take it"
  • NEW: Court documents: Shooter tells police he expected to be killed
  • Man who helped tackle gunman: "We did what we had to do"
  • Newell apparently had an ongoing dispute with the township over property rights

Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Bernie Kozen thought he heard fireworks. Then, he saw a wall exploding as bullets slammed into it.

Terrified people at the rural Pennsylvania township board meeting Monday night ran for cover as a shooter opened fire and yelled, "They stole my land! They stole my land!"

For a brief, crucial moment, the shooting stopped. Police say the gunman left the meeting to get another weapon.

Kozen huddled in a corner. As the shooter returned and approached with a handgun, Kozen sprang into action.

"I jumped him from behind," Kozen told CNN in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

Three killed in town hall shooting

Now, police are hailing the local parks director and another man as heroes. The gunman killed three people at the board meeting in Monroe County. But if Kozen and another man hadn't tackled the shooter, police say, there would have been even more casualties at the meeting in a small town about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.

Town hall shooter tackled while firing
3 killed in town hall shooting spree

"It's certainly courageous what they did, and they absolutely would have saved lives," state police Lt. Robert Bartal told reporters Tuesday.

The two men tackled the shooter even as rounds were fired, authorities said.

"It happened so quickly, I wouldn't say I was scared," Kozen told CNN. "The opportunity was there and the guy upstairs was looking out for me, and we did what we had to do."

A chaotic scene

As he and the other man subdued the shooter, a chaotic scene surrounded them.

Some people took off their shirts to apply compresses to wounds, Kozen said. Others performed CPR or wrapped bandages for injured victims.

The other man who helped tackle the gunman, who did not wish to be identified, told CNN he saw Kozen grab the shooter, then he jumped in to help the parks director.

"Bernie held the bottom half of his body, then I stood on the shooter's neck," the man told CNN, adding that he "punched, kicked, pulled the handgun from the shooter's hand" and helped pull the shooter to the ground.

He and Kozen tied the shooter's arms up with a jacket, he said.

On Tuesday, Kozen said he was still rattled by the shooting. The gunman killed one of his close friends -- a man whose kids played Little League baseball with his.

"I am saddened for the loss of life," he said. "Senseless. It makes no sense at all."

The shooting, he said, was the kind of thing he'd only seen before on TV.

"You see all the shootings, the Aurora and Newtown, and you say it can't happen in small-town America like this, but it can," he said. "It can happen anywhere."

Police: Suspect was angry over condemned property

Police said the suspect in the shooting, Rockne Newell, was angry with local officials.

The 59-year-old's home had recently been condemned and purchased by the township, police said.

"We do believe he was angry about the condemnation of the property," Bartal told reporters Tuesday.

When he burst into the meeting room, the shooter appeared to fire at random.

"His beef seemed to be with the township and the township supervisors," Bartal said. "Unfortunately, some of the people attending the meeting happened to be in harm's way."

Three people were killed -- James V. LaGuardia, 64, David Fleetwood, 62, and Gerard J. Kozic, 53.

Several others were wounded. Newell was one of three people taken to a hospital after the shooting and later released into police custody, Geoffrey Roche, spokesman for the Pocono Medical Center, told CNN Tuesday.

Newell was arraigned Tuesday morning on charges of criminal homicide, Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Brian Vadell said. Newell was in Monroe County jail during the video arraignment, Vadell said. No plea was entered.

The shooting suspect was limping, shirtless and handcuffed as authorities escorted him into state police barracks Monday night. When a reporter from CNN affiliate WFMZ asked whether he had anything to say about what had happened, it didn't take him long to answer.

"They tormented me for 23 years," Newell said. "I couldn't take it."

Court documents reveal dramatic details

The terror began Monday night even before the gunman entered the building, police said.

Ross Township's monthly supervisors meeting had just started when the shooter marched toward the municipal building in Saylorsburg with a long gun and fired through the windows.

Court documents obtained by CNN paint a dramatic picture of the shooting and its aftermath.

The shooter used a semi-automatic rifle to open fire on the meeting, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by police.

When police arrived in the meeting room, one victim lay dead on the floor. Newell was also pinned to the ground on his stomach, with a gunshot wound in his leg, the affidavit says.

As authorities took Newell to the hospital, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Nicolas de Iglesia said he heard Newell say, "I wish I killed more of them."

At the hospital, the affidavit says, Newell told police he'd planned to kill the township's solicitor and supervisors, and thought he would get killed while doing it.

Inside the gunman's vehicle, police said, investigators found 90 rounds of ammunition.

Witness: 'It was a nightmare'

Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber watched as plaster flew off the walls, he said in a first-hand account that appeared in the newspaper. He was covering his first board meeting.

He heard more than 10 shots.

Read Reber's account

"The thing that got my attention: plaster flying out, blowing out through the walls. Witnesses would later tell me they saw pictures exploding away from the walls," according to the newspaper account.

Another witness, Cleoria Campodonico, sobbed as she told CNN that the shooting was "the worst thing I have seen in my whole life."

"I am scared for the rest of my life for those images," she said, vowing to never go back in the building again.

She said that she, too, called 911 when the shooting happened and then phoned her husband to tell him that she loved him. She thought she would never see him again, she said. She then called her daughter to tell her the same thing.

A man protected her, she told CNN, and he was shot in the stomach twice. She does not know if he survived.

"I owe that man my life for protecting me," she said. "Oh my God, it was a nightmare."

Complaints about Newell

The Pocono Record newspaper reported in a story on June 10 that Newell, after an 18-year battle, had been ordered last year to vacate his property, which was called an eyesore by the board of supervisors, the elected body that sets policies and laws for the community of 5,400.

The township wanted to take over the property and clean it up, the newspaper reported.

"If I lose this property, I have nowhere else to go," he told the paper.

"What they're doing to me, what they've been doing to me for so long, it's wrong."

According to the Pocono Record, Newell got a building permit from the township to have a storage structure on his property, but then built a residence without getting a proper permit.

The newspaper said neighbors filed complaints about the property, including one of human fecal matter in buckets, the Record said.

The township ruled he was improperly disposing of sewage with no septic system, according to the newspaper. Newell said he couldn't afford septic hookup fees, it said.

The court last year ordered Newell to leave the property, which was set for a sheriff's sale this summer.

Monday night, the topic of Newell's property wasn't on the meeting's agenda.

CNN's Poppy Harlow reported from Saylorsburg; Ashley Fantz and Catherine E. Shoichet reported and wrote in Atlanta; CNN's Holly Yan, Ronni Berke, Joe Sutton, Kevin Conlon and Rick Martin contributed to this report.

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