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Tragic Gunshot Shatters Quiet Of Massena Street; Teen's Apparent Suicide Investigated

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MASSENA - The quiet of a residential neighborhood in Massena that dates back to the boom years of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the power dam was shattered Wednesday by the piercing sounds of sirens and the sounds of gunfire.
It brought law enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies - many armed with long guns and wearing bullet proof vests - into the Amherst Road neighborhood. It was a far cry from the idyllic pictures of the '50s.
And when the tense situation came to a close approximately an hour after it began with the sound of the village police sergeant's words echoing on the police radios, "Suspect down," a community was once again left to wonder why as they dealt with the death of a 19 year old, a teenager dead after reportedly shooting himself in an apparent suicide in the shed behind the house he called home.
It wasn't the first suicide in the village this fall. But yet this one seemed so different. It didn't just scar the souls of family and friends.
The fear of an armed man running in an area in the shadow of the schools and then the news that a young man just beginning his life was dead will leave emotional scars with many in the community.
For many, the teenager was a young man they had never met, a teenager they knew him far more for the bad deeds in the final months of his life than for the life he lived before he hit the hard times, a life being remembered far differently today by those friends and family members who knew him best.
And he was still a kid - somebody's son, somebody's best friend. His death was also another reminder of the loss of innocence in a community where many of its young people are struggling with issues far greater than their young years.
It started at 8:13 a.m. Wednesday when village police received a phone call from 556 1/2 S. Main St. that Derek J. Ober, 19, of 7 Amherst Road, Massena, had fired a shotgun twice and was threatening to kill himself.
While attempting to locate Ober, police received two subsequent phone calls that he was spotted crossing the Raquette River in a canoe, was still in possession of a weapon and was walking toward Amherst Road.
Police said they responded to the vicinity of Ober's residence at 7 Amherst Road and spotted him running across the lawn and into the residence's front door.
Within seconds, a firearm discharge was heard, according to village police.
Again, it was the police radio transmission, "Shots fired, shots fired," that made this situation so different from most of the calls. And the location of the incident, just two blocks from an elementary school and Massena's High School sparked even more concern as the incident played out.
It would be several minutes later before police moved onto the property and found Ober dead in a shed behind the house from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Village police Chief Timmy J. Currier said he immediately ordered the scene secured and requested the New York State Police to take over and conduct an independent investigation.
The state police's Bureau of Criminal Investigation's forensic unit was on the scene by late Wednesday morning.
"There were no police weapons discharged," Mr. Currier said.
"This was an active shooting incident and my staff was responding in a manner with weapons drawn. Because of this, to eliminate any doubt as to the cause of death, it is important that an independent investigation be conducted," he said. "I know my officers responded properly, however it is vital that our community hear that from an independent voice."
Late Wednesday, State Police Lt. Scott Heggelke said his agency's findings were consistent with the village police's determination of suicide. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday evening.
West Hatfield Street and Amherst Road were closed for part of Wednesday. Crime tape had surrounded 7 Amherst. Some residents in the neighborhood were evacuated - a steady stream of vehicles pulled out of neighboring streets, some local residents responded to the scene to check on the well-being of family members living in the neighborhood.
Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough II said he was notified at approximately 9 a.m. that a gunman was in the vicinity of Nightengale Elementary School.
"I immediately notified administrators at Nightengale, J.W. Leary Junior High and the high school that we would go into a lockout mode - no one can come in and no one can go out," Mr. Clough said.
The Central Administration Building, which is located on the high school and Nightengale Elementary campus, was also put in a lock down mode, he said.
Mr. Clough said he kept in communication with administrators at the schools, and the district also fielded phone calls from concerned parents.
Mr. Currier notified Mr. Clough at 9:22 a.m. that the "situation was concluded" and the lock down was lifted at the schools, he said.
The superintendent said lockdowns are part of their emergency plan which is practiced, but which they hope to never have to use.
"You think of the safety of all the children in the district and the faculty and make sure everything is locked," including not just entrance doors, but also windows, delivery doors and garage doors, he said. "It's a very scary situation, especially when you have children in those three buildings."
Shortly before noon, Pam J. DeLosh drove her sport utility vehicle to the banks of the north side of the Raquette, behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, to recover her canoe used in the incident.
Ms. DeLosh's niece had spotted a man in a red-hooded sweatshirt stealing the canoe from the back deck of her Cook Street residence while the family was eating breakfast Wednesday morning. By the time Ms. Delosh ran outside, the canoe was already on the opposite side of the river.
"I just ran, looked at the deck, and told my husband to call the cops," Ms. DeLosh said. "Why take the canoe across the river? Then we heard what was going on."
Those who witnessed the scene described how law enforcement converged on the usually quiet neighborhood Wednesday morning. One neighbor on Amherst who wished to remain anonymous said police had told him to stay inside and get toward the back of the house.
Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray lives on West Hatfield near where the incident took place.
"Obviously when you see law enforcement running around with assault weapons, you wonder what's going on. It was reassuring to see a police presence if there was a potential problem," he said. "It's obviously an unfortunate outcome."
In his final days, Ober had a series of contacts with law enforcement. He had been charged last week with petit larceny after he allegedly shoplifted three pairs of pants from Walmart.
St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Department deputies charged him with driving while intoxicated, felony first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and operating without headlights Sunday evening as he drove out of the parking lot at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility.
While processing Ober, deputies said they discovered he was also wanted on a warrant from Stockholm Town Court for failure to pay restitution.
He was arraigned by Stockholm Town Justice Wayne Williams and was sent to the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility for 15 days or until restitution was paid. He paid the remaining $40 restitution and was released from the facility late Monday afternoon.
Ober had been ordered to make restitution of $550 in November 2010 following his conviction for a fourth-degree criminal mischief charge in Stockholm Town Court. He and a co-defendant had been charged with damaging the glass in the doors to enter The Village Market in Sanfordville. They had also been charged with third-degree burglary in connection with that incident.
Ober had also been arrested by village police at 12:19 a.m. Wednesday - just eight hours before his final contact with police - for reportedly stealing two bottles of liquor from Romeo's Liquor Store on South Main Street. Police processed him and had released him on an appearance ticket, Mr. Currier said.
Staff Writers Brian Hayden, Bob Beckstead and Ryne R. Martin contributed to this report.

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