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Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Jeffrey Lee Michael Murder Case

     Jeffrey Lee Michael, a 44-year-old unemployed truck driver, lived on Juniata Valley Road in Geeseytown, a village 70 miles west of Harrisburg in south central Pennsylvania. Mr. Michael hadn't worked since being injured in a traffic accident in the spring of 2012. As Christmas approached, Michael had been behaving in a way that made his neighbors "uneasy." Health problems, a divorce and child custody battles mixed with his apocalyptic beliefs based upon biblical prophecy and the ancient Mayan end-of-the-world calendar, had turned Mr. Michael into an unstable, unpredictable walking time-bomb. Other than a few speeding tickets, Jeffrey Michael had not been in trouble with the law.

     On Friday morning just before nine o'clock on December 21, 2012, Jeffrey Michael loaded several handguns into the cab of his pickup truck. Before driving off he aimed one of the guns at the Juniata Valley Gospel Church across the road from his house and fired a bullet through one of its windows. With a gun in his hand, Michael walked across the street and entered the building where he encountered two women who had come to the church to decorate the interior for an upcoming children's Christmas party. Although he didn't know either of these church volunteers, Mr. Michael shot 58-year-old Kimberly Scott in the head, killing her on the spot. (The other woman either wasn't in the room at the time, or escaped being shot by fleeing the scene.) The dead woman's husband owned and operated the car dealership in nearby Duncanville.

      Outside the church, before climbing into his pickup truck, Michael approached Ken Lynn, a neighbor who was about to get into his car to go Christmas shopping with his wife. The 60-year-old neighbor, seeing Michael come toward him with a gun in his hand, tried to flee but was shot before he could get away. The calm, matter-of-fact gunman killed him with a single bullet to the head.

     After randomly murdering Kimberly Scott and Ken Lynn, Jeffrey Michael got behind the wheel of his truck and drove north on Juniata Valley Road. Less than a mile from his house, after intentionally ramming into the rear of another pickup stopped at an intersection, Michael climbed out of his vehicle with a gun in his hand and approached the other driver, William Rhodes. Michael shot the 38-year-old construction worker in the head, killing him instantly.

     Having murdered three people he didn't know, Mr. Michael got back into his truck and continued to drive north on the rural road. He had traveled a mile or so when a pair of southbound Pennsylvania State Police cruisers sped past him. As they went by Michael fired shots at the police cars, striking both vehicles. With the fired-upon officers in pursuit, Michael crashed head-on into an oncoming police vehicle. The collision caused one of the pursuit cruisers to slam into the back of Michael's truck.

     Immediately following the crash, Jeffrey Michael climbed out of his damaged truck and opened fire on the state troopers. The officers responded in kind, killing him instantly. Before he died, Michael had shot one of the state troopers in the wrist and chest. Had this officer not been wearing a bullet-proof vest, he may have become Mr. Michael's fourth murder victim. A second officer had been injured by bullet fragments and flying car glass, and the third had been hurt in the head-on vehicle collision. The state police officers were treated at a hospital in Altoona and released.

     A few days after Jeffrey Michael's murder spree, the Blair County coroner and the district attorney announced that this police-involved shooting had been legally justified. It appeared that Jeffrey Michael, after randomly murdering three people, had committed suicide-by-cop. Since he had left his house that day with suicide on his mind, why hadn't this mentally disturbed man just blown his brains out? What compelled him to take three innocent lives before getting into the hopeless gun battle with the police? In murder-suicide cases, this is the question that goes unanswered. One also wonders if steps could have been taken to stop these murders before they happened. But the problem is, you can't prevent what you can't foresee. And who could have foreseen this?

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