EBENSBURG - It was around 10 p.m. Friday night when Josephine Ruckinger knocked on the door of her parents' double-wide mobile home at 643 Bottom Road in Ashville, Cambria County, according to police.
When her mother, Roberta Frew, answered, Ruckinger - who police said had been estranged from her parents for almost 20 years - pointed a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun at her mother's chest, shot and killed her.
In the aftermath of one of the area's most horrific tragedies, which left four dead, state police spokesman Trooper John Matchik confirmed in a Sunday morning press conference at Ebensburg's state police barracks that Roberta Frew, 64; her husband, John Edward Frew Sr., 67; and their son, John Frew Jr., 47, were attacked Friday night by Josephine and her husband, Jeffrey Ruckinger, both age 43, from Blandburg.
Each of the family members, except Frew Sr., died from gunfire within the Frew home.
Matchik said John Sr., Roberta and John Jr. had just returned home from dining out, and were settling in to the living room to watch TV, when they heard a knock at the door.
Matchik said when Roberta answered, she had time to scream something to the effect of, "Oh my God, they have guns" before her daughter shot her.
According to police, John Jr. then attempted to grab a .22-caliber rifle from somewhere in the home but was shot and killed in the kitchen. Police said he sustained several gunshot wounds to the left side of the chest.
Police said Jeffrey Ruckinger was carrying a 410 Derringer pistol and a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun. It is unclear yet which gun was used to kill John Jr., or whether his sister shot him, Matchik said.
Matchik said John Sr., by this point, was able to retrieve a .22-caliber revolver from a rear bedroom, and returned to find his daughter on one knee in the living room, pointing the shotgun at him.
"He was able to fire at least one round, which we believe struck her in the head," Matchik said.
Because John Sr. had not seen Josephine in two decades, he told police he did not know she was one of the intruders.
"At this time, John Frew Sr. turned and saw the male intruder crouched against the refrigerator in the kitchen, firing a handgun at him," Matchik said.
John Sr. then fired back and struck his son-in-law in the head, killing him.
The elder Frew was uninjured, and called 911, police said. It was only after police arrived that John Sr. was able to identify his daughter as one of the intruders he shot.
She was later transported to UPMC Altoona's trauma center, where she died.
Police arrived to find the Ruckingers' car, a Suzuki Esteem station wagon, parked at the bottom of the Frew's driveway. Police said they believe the intruders parked the vehicle there so their presence would not be noticed until they entered the home.
John Sr. was on the front porch when police arrived, Matchik said.
Autopsies on Roberta, John Jr. and the Ruckingers were performed at Conemaugh Hospital in Johnstown Saturday, police said. County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski said they will be conducting drug and alcohol tests, which have not yet been completed.
Matchik said as part of the investigation, police executed a search warrant on the Ruckingers' car, in which they found "a large amount of ammunition, as well as a gas can and charcoal lighter."
Police said they don't know whether the Ruckingers planned to burn down the house afterward and are investigating all possible motives.
"A motive is still being explored at the present time. It has been reported that there have been burglaries and thefts that have occurred at the Frew residence in the past," Matchik said, adding it is unclear how many occurred and when, or whether they are related to the shooting.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said she doesn't anticipate filing charges against John Frew Sr.
"We are looking at him right now as a victim of an attempted homicide," she said. "Clearly, these two individuals came to his house to carry out a planned, deadly attack on his family."
Callihan said John Sr. has been cooperative, and all of his accounts have been corroborated with evidence.
"His use of force was justified," she said. "He used deadly force to save his own life and tried to save the lives of his family."
She said formal findings will come after all reports are completed and examined.
"I would characterize it [the shooting] as a home invasion that was a murder plot," she said.
Police said John Sr. has returned to his home, and their investigation will continue for the next several weeks, including ballistics, drug and alcohol testing.
Matchik said investigators were assisted by state police experts in the forensics services unit and collision and reconstruction specialists, as well as state police in Hollidaysburg and Ebensburg.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.