Niagara Gazette — WEBSTER — Fellow police and firefighters choked back sobs Sunday afternoon as they described Lt. Michael Chiapperini as a friend, mentor and family man at a funeral attended by first responders from across New York.
Chiapperini, 43, and fellow firefighter Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, were slain by gunman William Spengler in a fiery Christmas Eve ambush in a neighborhood on the shore of Lake Ontario. Two other firefighters remain hospitalized with bullet wounds.
Meanwhile, A real estate agent says William Spengler's sister had planned to sell the family home that Spengler set on fire to lure firefighters into a deadly trap.
Cheryl Spengler, 67, bought a house in nearby Henrietta in recent weeks and wanted to sell the home she shared with her 62-year-old brother in Webster.
Real estate agent Laura LaManna told the newspaper that Cheryl Spengler told her she didn't get along with her brother.
Police believe Spengler killed his sister before setting their house afire and lying in wait to shoot firefighters. He killed two first responders and wounded two before shooting himself. A body believed to be Cheryl Spengler was found in the burned house.
For Sunday's funeral, an estimated 5,000 first responders from across the state were in town for the weekend to attend calling hours for both men on Saturday at Webster Schroeder High School. At Chiapperini's funeral Sunday afternoon in the high school auditorium, Webster Fire District Chief James Deisenroth called him a "true hero" and mentor who "gave me the courage and confidence to handle anything."
As head of the local Explorer's program, Chiapperini helped many members of the fire department get their start.
Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, his voice cracking with emotion, ended his tribute with "Car 941, you are 10-7," the police code for out of service. "Your work is done. Rest in peace, my friend."
Webster Police Officer Anthony Galante, former West Webster fire chief, gave a glimpse of Chiapperini's sense of humor and mischievousness. He told how he and Chiapperini hummed the "Mission: Impossible" theme as they snuck an air conditioner to their room at a sweltering state fire training center and "giggled like schoolgirls" as they removed a screen and duct-taped every air leak. He said Chiapperini was almost arrested by state police for it, but talked them into letting the air conditioner stay for the duration of the two-week training session.
Bagpipers and drummers played "Amazing Grace" in a funeral procession after the service.
Kaczowka's funeral is this morning at St. Stanislaus Church in Rochester.