PITTSBURGH – A two-decade family feud came to a violent end when a man shot dead the two home invaders that killed his wife and son, not knowing the assailants included his long-estranged daughter, authorities said Sunday.
Though the investigation of Friday’s shootings continues, authorities said it appears Josephine and Jeffrey Ruckinger planned to murder her family at their rural central Pennsylvania home — but it remains unclear what exactly led to the deadly confrontation.
“They parked at the bottom of a long driveway, and walked up, heavily armed,” said Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan.
Josephine Ruckinger was armed with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and her husband had a Derringer pistol and a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun as they approached the Frew family home in Ashville, about 40 miles southwest of State College, according to investigators.
John Frew, his wife Roberta, and their son John Jr., 47, had just returned from dinner out, and were watching TV in the living room of the white mobile home when there was a knock at the door, authorities said.
Police say Roberta, 64, answered the door, and cried out something like “Oh my God, they have guns!” before her daughter shot her at point-blank range. John Jr. then may have attempted to arm himself with a gun, but Jeffrey Ruckinger shot him multiple times in the chest, killing him, police said.
The elder Frew, 67, grabbed a .22 revolver and came out from the bedroom to find the daughter he didn’t initially recognize pointing the shotgun at him. Frew fired once, hitting her in the head, then turned and exchanged fire with Jeffrey Ruckinger, killing him. He then called police.
Josephine Ruckinger was still alive when police arrived, but later died at an area hospital. John Frew was not hurt.
Callihan said that the preliminary investigation suggests that the elder Frew and his family were victims “of a pre-planned murder” plot, and that he acted in self-defense. Police also found a can of gas and lighter fluid in the Ruckingers’ car.
Ballistics and toxicology tests are pending, investigators said.
Authorities are still exploring possible motives, but say there may have been burglaries and robberies at the Frew residence in the past.
A relative, Virginia Cruse, said the daughter and mother did not get along, but that she had no idea what spawned Friday’s tragedy. The daughter had “a hatred toward the family,” she said.
When Josephine was about 20, she and a boyfriend trashed her parents’ home and stole items including a pistol, then fled to Pittsburgh, Cruse said. After that, she said, “more or less, they disowned her.”