A man charged with killing three people at a Pennsylvania municipal meeting because of a feud over his junk-strewn property had given plenty of warning that he intended to kill people, his father said Wednesday.
Rockne Newell told his father and others that he planned to kill officials in rural Ross Township, saying he had nothing left to lose because he’d already been forced off the land, said the father, Pete Newell.
“He said, ‘My life’s over, Dad. I just got to stop them from doing it to anyone else, and I’m going to take care of it so they’re not around to do it to anybody else,’” Pete Newell, 78, said in a phone interview.
The father said that when he told his son “it wasn’t worth killing someone over,” Rockne replied, “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Authorities said Rockne Newell, 59, packed a rental car with guns and ammunition before opening fire at a township meeting Monday night and killing three men, including the zoning officer and two residents.
Newell had lost his property last month in a court fight with the township over longstanding complaints that he lived in a storage shed, built an illegal culvert and used a bucket outside as a toilet.
“Normally, he wouldn’t harm anybody. But they just drove him nuts. They took the only thing he had in his life away from him,” his father said.
When deputies tried to serve Rockne Newell with documents informing him the property would be sold at a sheriff’s sale, Pete Newell said he warned them that his son had been making threats, saying: “I’m telling you one thing, people are going to die over this.”
Sheriff Todd Martin said his deputies took the threat to be against the sheriff’s department itself, not against others.
He said his department had a long history with the suspect, adding that Newell could be volatile — outraged one moment, calm the next.
“We’ve known Rocky Newell for many, many years, and he’s made many, many threats,” Martin said. “Rocky’s always been that way. Rocky’s always one who believed in his property and believed in his ideals and told everyone the government was out to get him. This thing has brewed for many, years, and I believe it escalated to the point where he took matters in his own hands.”
Rockne Newell had been living on disability payments from an auto accident. His fight with the township was the subject of several newspaper articles over the years.
“He can’t take orders. The more they hounded about him having trash around, the more he hauled home,” his father said.
The alleged gunman faces a preliminary hearing Aug. 19. He has not entered a plea.