SAYLORSBURG, Penn. — He first thought it was fireworks. That’s what a man who helped take down a shooter who killed three people at a rural Pennsylvania township board meeting Monday night thought he was hearing.
The man, who doesn’t want to be identified, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Tuesday morning that the shooter had walked into the meeting in Monroe County and began firing while yelling, “They stole my land! They stole my land!”
“Everyone ran for cover,” the man recalled.
For a brief, crucial moment, the shooting stopped. Police say the shooter left the meeting to change guns.
The man who spoke to CNN said that during that break, he and others frantically called 911 at the Ross Township board of supervisors meeting.
But he said the gunman returned and started firing again.
In those chaotic moments, the man told CNN, he heard the voice of Bernie Kozen, the director of a local park preservation group.
Kozen was “telling the guy ‘give me the gun, give me the gun,’” the man recalled.
At some point, Kozen grabbed the shooter and the man who spoke to CNN said he jumped in to help, saying he “punched, kicked, pulled the handgun from the shooter’s hand” and helped pull the shooter to the ground.
“Bernie held the bottom half of his body, then I stood on the shooter’s neck,” the man told CNN.
He and Kozen tied the shooter’s arms up with a jacket, he said.
Tuesday morning, the suspect in the shooting, Rockne Newell, was arraigned 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.
Two men tackled the shooter — even as rounds were fired, authorities said.
State police Lt. Robert Bartal praised the men during a Tuesday press conference, saying that had they not acted, it could have been a much worse bloodbath at this small town meeting, about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.
“It’s certainly courageous what they did, and they absolutely would have saved lives,” Bartal said.
Authorities found 90 rounds of ammunition in the gunman’s vehicle, they said Tuesday.
The shooter killed three people and wounded several others, authorities said.
Authorities Tuesday released the names of the three killed — James V. LaGuardia, 64, David Fleetwood, 62, and Gerard J. Kozic, 53.
Kozi is married to a woman who was injured, Bartal and state police Lt. George Bivens said.
The man who spoke to CNN said he didn’t recognize the shooter and didn’t know who he was, but said the photos shown in media of Newell match the man he helped tackle.
Newell was one of three people taken to a hospital after the shooting and later released, Geoffrey Roche, spokesman for the Pocono Medical Center, told CNN Tuesday.
The Pocono Record newspaper in a story on June 10, said 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.”
‘It was a nightmare’
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.
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.
“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
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.
It 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.
“His beef seemed to be with the township and the township supervisors,” Bartal said.
The topic of Newell’s property wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda.
CNN’s Poppy Harlow reported from Saylorsburg; Ashley Fantz and Holly Yan reported and wrote in Atlanta; CNN’s Ronni Berke, Joe Sutton, Kevin Conlon and Rick Martin contributed to this report.
Poppy Harlow, Ashley Fantz and Holly Yan | CNN