WEBSTER, N.Y. — William Spengler raised no alarms in prison for 17 years and for more than a decade afterward. Well-spoken, well-behaved and intelligent, his demeanor was praised by four straight parole boards that nevertheless denied him parole, worried that bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer showed a violent streak that could explode again.
After his sentence was up in 1996, he stayed out of trouble until 2010, police said Friday. That's when Spengler went to a sporting goods store with a neighbor's daughter, picked out a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun and had her buy the guns that the convicted felon couldn't legally possess. On Monday, he used the weapons to ambush firefighters lured to a blaze he set at his house in upstate Webster, killing two people and wounding three others before killing himself.
On Friday, state and federal authorities charged the woman who bought the guns, 24-year-old Dawn Nguyen, with lying on a form that said she would be the owner of the guns she bought for Spengler.
The charges involve the semiautomatic rifle and the 12-gauge shotgun that Spengler had with him Monday when volunteer firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were gunned down. Three other people, including two other firefighters, were wounded before the 62-year-old Spengler killed himself. He also had a .38-caliber revolver, but Nguyen is not connected to that gun, police said.
Investigators were still working Friday to confirm their belief that a body found in Spengler's burned home was that of the sister he lived with, Cheryl Spengler, 67.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Nguyen bought the two guns on June 6, 2010, on behalf of Spengler. Police used the serial numbers on the guns to trace them to Nguyen.
"She told the seller of these guns, Gander Mountain in Henrietta, N.Y., that she was to be the true owner and buyer of the guns instead of William Spengler," Hochul said. "It is absolutely against federal law to provide any materially false information related to the acquisition of firearms."
During an interview late on Christmas Eve, she told police she had bought the guns for personal protection and that they were stolen from her vehicle, though she never reported the guns stolen. The day after the shootings, Nguyen texted an off-duty Monroe County Sheriff's deputy with references to the killings. She later called the deputy and admitted she bought the guns for Spengler, police said Friday.
That information was consistent with a suicide note found near Spengler's body after he killed himself. The rambling, typed letter spelled out Spengler's intention to destroy his neighborhood and "do what I like doing best, killing people."
Nguyen is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 8. She declined comment Friday, and a working phone number for her lawyer could not be found.
The .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, which had a combat-style flash suppressor, is similar to the one used by the gunman who massacred 20 children and six women in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school earlier this month.
As police announced the charges against Nguyen, a clearer portrait of Spengler began to emerge, in the words of wary parole commissioners who kept him locked up until the law said they had to let him go.