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East Lansdowne fire: Names of the dead, including gunman, made available

Wounded officers hit by gunfire from the house identified and one released from hospital; DA says cause of fire might never be known.

The Delaware County Medical Examiner’s office was on hand Thursday morning on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne as officials began the search for as many as eight victims in the house that was consumed by flames Wednesday after two police officers were shot. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
The Delaware County Medical Examiner’s office was on hand Thursday morning on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne as officials began the search for as many as eight victims in the house that was consumed by flames Wednesday after two police officers were shot. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
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The house at 58 Lewis Ave. in East Lansdowne looked like any other in the inner ring suburbs.

A small “Happy Valentine” flag fluttered in the front yard and nearby a couple of snow shovels were leaned up against a wall, but the events of Wednesday changed that normalcy.

Crime investigators were slowly demolishing the remains of the home Thursday looking for evidence

Late Thursday the names of the dead were made available: Canh Van Le, 42, the gunman; Xuong Le, 40; Britni N. McLaughlin, no age given; Natalya Le, 17; Nakayla Le, 13; and Xavier Le, 10.

Canh Van Le killed his brother, Xuong, and the brother’s wife, McLaughlin, and their three children. The brothers’ parents, Houng Le, 74, and Chin Le Le, 72, were not in the house at the time, authorities said.

It was not clear late Thursday if all the bodies were recovered.

“We’re methodically taking our time so it take hours. It could take days,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said about 10 a.m. as crews began moving a backhoe into location to aid in their work. “There are still a couple of hotspots burning in the house. Our crime scene guys are on the scene but we are not rushing in there because this is going to be a recovery effort.”

The Delaware County Medical Examiner’s office had multiple crews on scene assisting. By 1 p.m., an ME van had left the scene with one body.

A spokesperson for Stollsteimer said later in the day that three bodies had been found, including what is believed to be the shooter and one of three children believed killed in the blaze.

Investigators work at the scene Thursday on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
APRIL BARTHOLOMEW / THE MORNING CALL
Investigators work at the scene Thursday on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

“Whoever was inside that house at the time of the fire is deceased. There is nobody alive in there so we are going to take our time so nobody gets hurt,” Stollsteimer said.

The fire did so much damage it may not be possible to ever determine how it started, Stollsteimer said.

“If we ever determine it, it won’t be any time soon,” Stollsteimer said outside a hospital where he was preparing for the release of one of the wounded officers.

Residents had praise for the police.

Crews use a backhoe to take down a powerline Thursday morning in the unit block of Lewis Ave. in East Lansdowne as officials began the search for as many as eight victims. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
Crews with a backhoe to take down a power line Thursday morning outside 58 Lewis Ave. in East Lansdowne as officials began the search. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

A neighbor’s account

Retired 25-year SEPTA police officer, the Rev. Tracy Mallory lives a few houses away on the other side of the street.

“It’s just tragic,” Mallory said. “The one thing about this block is every different nationality and religion live here and everybody got along. There was no discord between the neighbors.”

Mallory said he would see the residents of the home on the street to say hello but didn’t know them beyond that. He did have praise for the action of the police.

“From the beginning to the end, they did exactly as they were supposed to do: They let their training kick in. They understood what the mission was and all agencies worked well together,” Mallory said. “There was one sergeant who took command and gave orders and everybody understood their position.”

Mallory lives across the street to the left of the home was home when the shooting started.

“It was the succession of the shots. There was shots before the police came: if you count the shots you hear him, if he annihilated his family. You heard that first shot, then it was a pause. Then it was rapid shots, about four to six. Then it was about two more. That is when the police arrived.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer speaks Wednesday evening. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Mallory said when police arrived they were shot at.

“They didn’t really know what house (the shooter was in) and they went house to house securing the properties. Pushed everybody back, once they secured the areas you heard bang, bang, same caliber, but they returned fire,” he said. “Then you knew something happened because the other officers ran back and that is when the two officers were hit. They loaded them up, took them out and took them to the hospital. That was the last of the gunfire. About two minutes later you smelled smoke and 10 minutes later you saw flames.”

“Your juices get flowing when you hear gunfire, immediate police action,” Mallory said. “But I’m retired now. I secured my family and made sure my neighbors were secured.

“The police officers did an outstanding job, they worked well interagency,” he added. “Everyone did their job. Our prayers are for the wounded officers.”

Investigators and medical examiners used shovels and rakes to comb through the debris. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
Investigators and medical examiners use shovels and rakes to comb through the debris. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Derrick Richardson lives across the street from the home. He didn’t hear the original gunshots but when he looked out his window it was unfolding in front of him.

“Things were already escalated when I discovered something was going on. I’ll take my hat off for the police of Delaware County. They had a tough job. They had to figure out how to get into the house, but the house is on fire,” Richardson said. “They tried everything, a battering ram. They even tried to put the fire out themselves with hoses instead of the fire people. I take my hat off to them, they did a good job.”

He described when the police rescued their fellow officer as happening fast.

“Everything was really fast. They got him out, dragged him down the side of my house and got him to safety,” Richardson said.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt described a volatile and dangerous scene when officers from his department responded to the home and were able to rescue the two wounded officers.

“All officers that were on scene initially were taking on fire, and then when they removed themselves from it, there was no more gunfire at that point,” Bernhardt said.

The recap

Those officers were taken to Penn Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, one suffering an arm wound, and another a leg wound.

A spokesperson for Stollsteimer identified the officers struck as David Schiazza, 54, with the Lansdowne Police Department, and John Meehan, 44, of East Lansdowne Police. Both are 22-year veterans.

Meehan was struck in an arm, requiring lengthy surgery. He is still being treated for his injury.

Schiazza was struck in a leg and was released Thursday from Penn Presbyterian. Stollsteimer and other members of law enforcement were on hand for the release and there was a procession.

Schiazza rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair and was greeted by rows of fellow officers who stood at attention and saluted. He waved and flashed a thumbs-up sign through the passenger-side window as he was driven away.

Police were called Wednesday afternoon about 3:40 p.m. for someone with a firearm shooting inside the house, the first victim allegedly an 11-year-old girl.

The caller left the phone line open and the call taker with Delaware County Emergency Services could hear gunshots in the background.

Officers arrived moments later and quickly came under gunfire with neighbors suggesting 40 to 50 shots were fired, though it’s not clear how many were return fire from officers.

Police keep an eye on the doors and windows of the burning house Wednesday on Lewis Road in East Lansdowne, where two officers were shot before the house caught fire. (PETE BANNAN- DAILY TIMES)
DONNA FISHER / THE MORNING CALL
Police keep an eye on the doors and windows of the burning house Wednesday , where two officers were shot before the house caught fire. (PETE BANNAN- DAILY TIMES)

The officers were hit, and comrades got them out of the line of fire and into ambulances. Bernhardt added that his officers dragged the injured officers to safety using ballistic shields to cover them from the gunfire.

Within 10 minutes, the house was ablaze and there was no more gunfire.

Authorities waited out the incident.

There was no more information about the 11-year-old child.

Scenes from the shooting and fire on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne on Wednesday Feb. 7, 2024. An officer orders members of the public to stay back. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)
DONNA FISHER / THE MORNING CALL
Scenes from the shooting and fire on Lewis Avenue in East Lansdowne on Wednesday Feb. 7, 2024. An officer orders members of the public to stay back. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Other developments

American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania had this statement late Wednesday: “We are on scene (at Borough Hall) assisting a family of 4 who cannot return to their neighboring home following the event. Tomorrow, our Disaster Mental Health volunteers will be on standby to provide community support as needed.”

The William Penn School District also issued a statement Thursday on what it described as the “horrible tragedy” that has affected the community, and said officials there are still awaiting further information.

“Our focus now is providing support to our students and staff,” the release said. “Counselors will be available today for those who need someone to talk to. We have reached out to the (Delaware County Intermediate Unit) to provide additional counseling resources, if necessary. If you and your family need additional support, please contact your school principal or counselor. This is a time when we need to be there for each other and to provide reassurance for our students, as it is impossible to make sense of what occurred. If there are any further developments, we will let you know.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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