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Post-Gazette story in 2002 about Lilly shootings

Saturday, October 26, 2002


LILLY, Pa. -- Perhaps one day, in a kitchen near Washington, D.C., years after John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo are ghosts, some mother will turn to her grown son and tell him what Betty McCarthy yesterday told David Krumenaker.

"David, show him your exit wound," McCarthy said.

"Aw, mom," David let out a long breath. "OK. I was gonna do that anyway."

Krumenaker pulled up his shirt, turned around and displayed a pie-sized dent in his back, with what looks like an eye socket in the middle.

Krumenaker was 14 years old the night of July 20, 1975, when a stone crashed through the kitchen window. He walked outside, saw a muzzle flash, slumped to the ground and bled.

"I didn't even hear the shot," he said.

Blood leaked into his lungs. He gurgled an Our Father.

Betty McCarthy ran to the phone and called a priest and, after that, an ambulance. It took 30 yards of gauze to pack the cavity and stanch the bleeding.

Three nights later, a neighbor, Kimberly Strayer, was walking in her yard when a man walked up with a handgun and wounded her. Minutes after that, a sniper took aim at Miles Lingle, who was manning a water pump station at the nearby Cresson State School, and killed him with a single shot.

Everyone had a theory about the Lilly Sniper. The mountainsides around central Cambria County filled with police and speculation.

Within days, a suspect in the Strayer shooting, an ex-con named George Ebner, was in handcuffs. But police knew there was no way Ebner could have traveled the distance between the Strayer home and the spot where Lingle was killed in the few minutes between the shootings.

Suspicion focused on a man and his son who had been run off from a night of deer poaching by Walt Nebelski and Joe Nesbella, neighbors of the Krumenakers. Nebelski and Nesbella were driving through the woods when they confronted the pair.

The poachers responded by opening fire on Nebelski's car as he drove off. The two men swore out a complaint and police went looking for them.

"Walt always said he thought that bullet was meant for him," David said. Reports circulated that Lingle, whose pump station was in a game-rich stretch of state forest outside town, had also chased away the poachers.

Francis "Hubba" Patterson was the police chief.

Cops searching for the Washington sniper had computers, surveillance cameras, FBI ballistics and even a spy plane on loan from the Department of Defense. Patterson had a strong hunch, but was never able to make his case.

"I have my ideas," he said. "But the case will still be there when I die." The older poacher killed himself in a mental ward in 1984. The son is still in New Jersey.

Lilly returned to its quiet ways. The nervous suburbs around Washington, Patterson said, will do the same.

"You just gotta live with it," he said. "It'll go. It'll linger on a little bit but the fear will leave. It wears off."

Krumenaker lived with the misapprehension that someone would come to his bed at Mercy Hospital in Altoona and finish the job.

"I was convinced someone was going to come and get me," he said. For weeks he flinched at noise, didn't sleep and lay awake in his bed.

One night, out of nowhere, he heard a terrific bang. Krumenaker rushed downstairs and asked his parents if they had heard something. Nobody had. It was a quiet summer night -- the kind he'd lost July 20.

He looked outside. His little town of 1,400 souls was still.

David returned to bed convinced he'd finally heard the shot that hit him. After that, the bad dreams went away.

Krumenaker still lives in Lilly. When the capital sniper was running loose, a co-worker at the foundry where Krumenaker works asked him, "Can you imagine what that must be like?"

"I kind of smirked and said, 'Yeah. Been there. Done that,' " Krumenaker said. "I still think he might not believe me."

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