HOLLIDAYSBURG – As a central Pennsylvania community mourns the slayings of three people by a man who was later killed in a gunbattle with state police, a friend said the shooter had struggled with a contentious divorce and stress from several accidents and had become fascinated with end-of-the-world predictions.
Several hundred people packed the Geeseytown Evangelical Lutheran Church on Saturday night for a prayer service remembering Kimberly Scott, 58, of Duncansville; Kenneth Lynn, 60, and his son-in-law, 38-year-old William Rhodes Jr., both of Geeseytown. Investigators say they were killed Friday morning by 44-year-old Jeffrey Lee Michael of Geeseytown, a tiny village about 70 miles west of Harrisburg, the state capital.
Pastor Michael Rhyne said many are “still wondering how something like this could happen … why?”
Authorities said Michael fired into the Juniata Valley Gospel Church and then went inside and killed Scott as she was decorating the church hall for a children’s Christmas party. Either before or after that, they said, he killed neighbor Lynn in his driveway. He then rammed his pickup into another truck driven by Rhodes and shot him, before the gunbattle with state police that ended his life and resulted in three troopers being injured.
“Our hearts are broken. This community has experienced a tragedy. To all of those affected by this senseless tragedy, we are thinking of you in our thoughts and prayers and holding you in our hearts,” Rhyne said.
Police and prosecutors say they are still trying to figure out what set off the rampage and why the victims were targeted. Although officials said Michael knew the two men, Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross said there were no known issues between them and Scott had no connection to the shooter.
Bob Socie of Lakemont, a longtime friend of Michael’s, told The Mirror that Michael had struggled for years with stress stemming from two accidents involving his tractor-trailer and an acrimonious divorce and custody battle.
“Jeff was just a really nice guy. He never wanted to hurt anybody,” he said. “He was a gun enthusiast, but he never flaunted them, never shoved them in people’s faces.”
Socie said Michael had become increasingly fascinated by end-of-the-world speculation related to biblical prophecy as well as an ancient Mayan calendar that some said focused on Dec. 21, the date of the shootings. He said Michael called him before leaving the house on Friday and told him to turn on the TV, saying: “The war is right here. The hour is here. … If I don’t talk to you again, next time I talk to you will be with the Lord.”