(NECN: Jennifer Eagan) - Forty-three-year-old Mike Chiapperini was awarded the firefighter of the year award just two weeks ago, and 19-year-old Tomas Kaczowka was just starting as a volunteer firefighter in Webster, N.Y.
Early Monday, the two responded to a fire in Webster - a small community northwest of Rochester. What they and several others were walking into was a trap.
"There was a car and house set aflame, probably set on fire by Mr. Spengler who laid in wait with armament and then shot the first responders," Chief Gerald Pickering told reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Chiapperini and Kaczowka were killed in the ambush, while two other firefighters were injured when police say 62-year-old William Spengler shot at first responders.
"We are assuming he was shooting from a high ground advantage on a berm near the home where he had barricaded and set himself up with those weapons to shoot the innocent first responders," Pickering said.
Police say Spengler then committed suicide. Spengler had a lengthy criminal history. He served 17 years in prison for killing his grandmother. He was released and put on supervised parole until 2006. Chief Pickering says as a convicted felon he should not have been able to obtain weapons.
Instead of celebrating Christmas Eve, some gathered in downtown Webster, N.Y. to hold a vigil for the two firefighter who were killed. Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy told reporters that at a time of such senseless tragedy, he looks to the work of the first responders to find light in such darkness.
Police are searching for a motive. Neighbors reportedly say Spengler's mother died in October. His sister, who police believe lived with him at the home he set on fire, is unaccounted for.