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After fatally shooting police Officer Lloyd Reed Jr. with a hunting rifle during a domestic incident in New Florence Saturday, the gunman held on to the firearm as he swam across the Conemaugh River to elude capture, then hid it in fallen leaves, state police said Tuesday.
Late Monday afternoon, state game commission officers, FBI agents and troopers recovered the .270-caliber bolt-action rifle they believe Ray Shetler Jr., 31, used to kill the St. Clair Township officer, spokesman Trooper Steve Limani said.
Limani said the firearm was hidden under a bloody sweatshirt with several rounds of ammunition in the pockets and buried beneath leaves in thick brush.
“It wasn’t along the well-traveled path where we believe Mr. Shetler was actually fleeing. It was well off that path, tucked into thick brush and covered with leaves,” Limani said.
Reed, 54, was shot as he responded to a domestic dispute at the home of Shetler’s girlfriend at 131 Ligonier St. in the small town in the northeastern corner of Westmoreland County. Police said Shetler ignored the officer’s repeated requests to drop the rifle.
Police allege Shetler fired three shots, one of which struck Reed in an area of his chest that was unprotected by a bulletproof vest. Limani said Shetler would have had to “manipulate the bolt-action lever three separate times to eject each of the three shell casings” he fired at Reed.
He declined to say whether there were more live rounds in the rifle.
“That is part of the ongoing investigation,” he said.
During the shootout, Reed fired six shots at Shetler, police said, and an assisting officer from Seward fired one. Shetler was wounded in the shoulder.
The location of the rifle contradicts Shetler’s story to police after he was captured about 3 a.m. Sunday after a massive manhunt involving dozens of troopers and police officers from multiple jurisdictions, Limani said.
Shetler told investigators that he lost the rifle while swimming across the river, which separates Westmoreland and Indiana counties. But trackers recovered it about a mile from where he was captured after a six-hour manhunt.
The rifle and other evidence have been sent to the state police laboratory for tests.
Limani credited the tracking expertise of Game Commission officers and FBI agents who assisted troopers in finding the rifle.
“While we are the lead investigating unit, it’s best to defer to agencies who may hold more expertise in tracking the most likely path (Shetler) was believed to have been using,” Limani said.
Limani said police were relieved to locate the rifle, and not only for its value in the upcoming prosecution of Shetler on homicide charges.
“First, it was important for the safety of the community and getting the firearm off the streets,” Limani said.
Limani said state police investigators are working with District Attorney John Peck to determine what additional charges will be filed against Shetler for his alleged assault of his girlfriend, Kristin Luther, before police arrived.
Shetler remains in the Westmoreland County Prison without bond on the homicide charge.
Authorities from three counties — Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland — are planning for Reed’s visitation and funeral services this week. Visitation will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday in Emmanuel Baptist Church in Richland, Cambria County. A funeral service will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at the War Memorial in Johnstown. Burial will be in Custer Cemetery in Hollsopple, Somerset County.
Johnstown police Capt. Andy Frear said Market Street will be closed at 7:30 a.m. Friday for the funeral service because police vehicles of officers attending will park there.
Napoleon Street will be closed for about three hours beginning at 9 a.m., he said. The funeral procession will move onto the Route 56 bypass before heading toward Holsopple, where Reed lived with his wife, Rosemarie.
Paul Peirce is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-850-2860.