The Moscow community has been stunned by the killings of three people, including a police officer and a church caretaker, in an ambush that...

Share story

MOSCOW, Idaho — The Moscow community has been stunned by the killings of three people, including a police officer and a church caretaker, in an ambush that is being called the worst shooting in the city’s history.

The gunman, who also wounded a deputy and a resident who had rushed to the aid of the fatally wounded officer, apparently killed himself in a nearby church sanctuary. In all, the sniper fired off more than 70 bullets late Saturday night in this quiet college town.

Investigators believe the gunman fired into the emergency dispatch center inside the Latah County Courthouse to lure people into the line of fire.

Police do not know of a motive and do not believe the shooter had a specific target in mind, said Assistant Police Chief David Duke.

“He was just shooting at anybody he could,” Duke said.

The shooting, which started in the parking lot across from the courthouse, happened so quickly that officers never returned fire, police said. The courthouse is home to many county offices, including the sheriff’s department.

The shooter had not been identified Sunday, and Duke would describe him only as in his 20s or 30s.

Moscow police Officer Lee Newbill, the first officer at the scene, died from gunshot wounds suffered in the attack that began about 11:30 p.m. It was the first time since Moscow became a city in 1899 that one of its police officers was killed in the line of duty.

The resident was shot around 11:45 p.m. while trying to help Newbill. The man, whose name was not released, was hospitalized and listed in fair condition Sunday evening.

Sheriff’s Deputy Brannon Jordon, a 17-year veteran, was shot a few minutes later as he took cover behind a tree after pulling Newbill out of the line of fire, said Duke. Jordon was in serious condition with multiple gunshot wounds, Duke said.

The gunman at some point retreated into the First Presbyterian Church. When police entered the church after 6 a.m., they found the body of Paul Bauer, the caretaker, who had been shot to death in the church office. The gunman’s body was found with a gunshot wound to the head. An assault rifle, ammunition and spent cartridges were found next to the body, Duke said.

Sorrow grips community

“It’s a terrifically sad day for our community,” said Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney. “Our hearts go out to the friends, family and colleagues of the victims.”

Within hours of the killings, a memorial was taking shape at the barricades near the church, with flowers and notes mourning the deaths of the officer and church caretaker.

“Moscow prays for its fallen and their loved ones,” read one note propped in front of a vase of freshly cut lilacs.

“RIP Officer Newbill. Moscow can never repay your service,” said another.

After the rampage started, streets in the area were barricaded and residents were told to stay inside as officers rushed to the scene.

Many residents said they heard the gunfire, and some said they witnessed the shooting of the officers.

Neighbor Steve Bonnar heard the shots from his home about a block away. From his third-story window he watched officers descend on the scene in an urgent attempt to stop the bloodshed.

When Bonnar called in to report the gunshots, dispatchers asked if he could see the gunman, but he never did.

It was a frightening experience, he said. “We locked the doors and stayed inside. Nervous-system overload is the best way to describe the feeling.”

Laura Garrett, who knew Newbill, was near tears as she described the long night.

Garrett also mourned the shooting’s impact on the city. “It’s a place where you don’t lock your doors,” she said.

Moscow, with a population of about 20,000 people, is home to the University of Idaho. It’s about 10 miles from Pullman and Washington State University.

After the courthouse shootings, police were outside the church when they heard the last gunshot shortly after 1 a.m. Officers surrounded the brick structure, which is nestled in a heavily residential neighborhood near downtown and Moscow High School.

They had hoped to persuade the gunman to come outside but were never able to make contact with him.

No calls were made from the church, said Duke.

After talking with church staff members about the building’s layout, police moved in shortly before 6 a.m.

Duke became emotional as he described Officer Newbill.

“Lee Newbill was an open person who was friends with everyone,” Duke said.

Passion for history

Newbill, who grew up in Virginia, was a passionate student of 18th-century American history, said his friend Jim Baillargeon, of Moscow, a member of the Hog Heaven Muzzleloaders group in Moscow that studies and re-creates the travels of Pacific Northwest fur traders. Newbill was the group’s secretary and treasurer, and also wrote for its Web site.

When Newbill attended his first Muzzleloaders’ meeting in the late 1970s, he was dressed in Civil War regalia. But “this is Lewis and Clark country,” Baillargeon said, “and [Newbill] shifted his studies and interest a few decades back.”

Newbill helped stage educational re-creations of Lewis and Clark’s travels about four years ago in Tacoma and bravely volunteered to run the Salmon River in a dugout canoe for the Public Broadcasting Service documentary “River of No Return.” Newbill’s canoe “crashed and burned” among the river’s voracious rapids, lending credence to Lewis and Clark’s assessment that the river was unrunnable, Baillargeon said.

Moscow Muzzleloaders President Vernon Illi said Newbill was married to Rebecca Newbill of Potlatch, was the father of two daughters and a son, and the grandfather of two, with one on the way. Illi said Newbill rode horses, hunted deer and elk, and sometimes rode his motorcycle 40 miles to enjoy a drive and a cup of coffee with friends.

Newbill, who joined the ROTC at the University of Idaho, was a retired Army captain, Illi said. He worked as a security officer at the university in the late 1990s before joining the Moscow police.

Members of the First Presbyterian Church remembered Newbill and Bauer, and prayed for the injured — and the gunman — as they took their service Sunday to the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music.

“I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light,” they sang.

Choir Director Ranger Moore discarded his previously planned music lineup to find hymns to sustain the congregation in its grief — on the darkest day in the church’s 127-year history.

First Presbyterian Pastor Norman Fowler found himself asking God for divine inspiration to shore up his flock

“We don’t always know what to do with our grief, with what shouldn’t have happened,” Fowler preached.

The congregation recalled Bauer’s generous spirit.

“I can’t remember Paul without a smile on his face,” said Dan Crimmins, who said Bauer, who had an apartment in the church, rarely spoke about himself but recently described his great joy working for the congregation.

Carol Crimmins was at the church Saturday, helping with a wedding. She returned later in the evening to find Bauer fixing a drip line to water the grounds.

“One of the last things he did was something for us as a church,” she said.

Church members said it’s too soon to even contemplate returning to the church’s 65-year-old building.

“It’s going to be hard to get through, especially with two people dying in the church,” said church deacon Sharon Scott.

But after 20 years with the congregation, Scott is resolved to return: “I’d have been in today if they’d let us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report; Times staff reporter Susan Kelleher contributed from Seattle.