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February 23, 2024

At least 6 people are missing after a house fire and shooting in Pennsylvania

At least 6 people are missing after a house fire and shooting in Pennsylvania

By Patrick Smith, George Solis and Marlene Lenthang

The bodies of three people were recovered from a Pennsylvania home Thursday, the day after it went up in flames during a gunfight that left two police officers wounded, authorities said.

Authorities had been searching the burned down home for six members of the same family who were missing and feared dead.

The bodies of the shooter and two other people had been recovered as of Thursday afternoon. One is most likely a child. The bodies of three other people are believed to still be in the home, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Thursday afternoon.

Officials have not publicly identified any of the people who died.

A family member identified two of the adults dead as Britni McLaughlin-Le, 37, and Xuong Le, 40. They were married 17 years and had three children.

“Our hearts are broken and we vow to cherish the memories of our loved ones and we will work to ensure that their legacies lives on,” the McLaughlin family said in a statement. “We would like to express our sincere and heartfelt gratitude for your thoughts, prayers, and condolences during this difficult time.”

Investigators expect they will continue to find bodies inside the house, which was so damaged that authorities were worried the walls might cave in, he said.

“What we suspect, looks like it’s true, that the family has been killed inside the home,” Stollsteimer said. “We think there might be three other people in the home. That’s our expectation, frankly, our sad expectation.”

The medical examiner will try to determine whether the people whose bodies were found died before or after the house fire, Stollsteimer said.

Going through the remains of the home will be a challenging operation that could take days, officials have warned.

The remains of a home in East Lansdowne, Pa., on Thursday after a fire broke out during a gunfight Wednesday night.Matthew Hatcher / Getty Images

The incident started when police responded to a report that an 11-year-old girl had been shot on Lewis Avenue, a suburban street in East Lansdowne, west of Philadelphia, at 3:47 p.m. Wednesday. Stollsteimer said Thursday that the call said someone was shooting the girl inside the home. 

When the two officers — one from East Lansdowne police and the other from Lansdowne police — arrived at the house, they were both shot once by someone inside and immediately returned fire, police said.

It is not known whether the 11-year-old girl mentioned in the police call or the gunman were inside the house at the time of the fire.

Both officers were dragged to safety by officers from Upper Darby Police Department, using ballistic shields as cover while gunfire continued, police said.

The DA’s office identified the injured officers Thursday as Lansdowne Police Officer David Schiazza, 54, and East Lansdowne Police Officer John Meehan, 44. Both are 22-year veterans of their departments. 

Schiazza suffered gunshot wound to his leg and was to be released at 3 p.m. Meehan suffered a gunshot wound to the left arm and required “a lengthy surgery,” the DA’s office said. He was still being treated. 

Firefighters at the scene where two police officers were injured responding to a reported standoff in East Lansdowne on Wednesday.Matt Rourke / AP

Images from the scene show the almost total destruction of the house, with just its external walls remaining. It’s unclear when the fire began. Officials said that firefighters were unable to stop the blaze because of the active shooter situation.

“Officers were taking gunfire,” Stollsteimer said Wednesday. “Police officers and the fire department who were out there, there was still shots coming out at the beginning of this fire scene.”

Where the investigation stands now

It’s unclear whether anyone other than the Le family was at the home at the time.

Huong V. Le, 74, told NBC News on Thursday that he is the owner of the burned home and that his two adult sons live there with a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren — a boy and two girls.

He said that he didn’t know what happened regarding the shooting and the fire and that he visits the home at times but lives in another area. 

Asked whether there were any issues among the occupants, he said, “I don’t know.”

The William Penn School District said in a statement Thursday: “We are at a loss regarding the horrific tragedy that happened in East Lansdowne yesterday and how that has affected our community. We are still awaiting additional information as this is an ongoing police investigation.”

It’s unclear whether any residents of the home attended school in the district, but the district said it was providing support to staff members and students. 

Officers walk away from the scene in East Lansdowne on Wednesday.Matt Rourke / AP

Witnesses heard gunshots and ducked for safety

Sharon Johnson, a crossing guard who saw the police response, described the scene to NBC Philadelphia.

“I was there, a cop came flying around the corner. He got out, and then he’s in front of the house talking to two people. And then all of a sudden I heard six or seven gunshots. Cops got down on the ground, and I ran and took off,” she said.

Denise Williams, who lives in the area, said she was entering her car to head to work when she heard gunshots. 

“I went into the car, and I had ducked a little bit because I was trying to protect myself because the shooting was going on,” she told NBC News on Thursday. “I see a cop on the left side on the next block. I see him got shot, actually.”  

Williams said she didn’t see the shooter. She said that she believed up to eight people lived in the house and that most are kids she believes she had seen playing with neighbors’ children. 

“I’m very emotional, because that’s horrible. It’s sad. It’s very sad. We never had this around our neighborhood at all,” she said. “I’ve been here almost, like, 14 years, and it’s never happened at all.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro thanked first responders. 

“I’m thankful for every first responder who ran towards danger yesterday evening, including both officers who were wounded in the line of duty,” he said.

CORRECTION (Feb 8, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the names of two police departments. They are East Lansdowne police, not East Lansdown police, and Lansdowne police, not Lansdown police.

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.

George Solis

George Solis is a national correspondent with NBC News.

Marlene Lenthang

Breaking News Reporter

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