EAST LANSDOWNE, Pa. - More than 12 hours after a shooting erupted into a fire that left two officers injured and 6–8 people unaccounted for, detectives are beginning what officials expect to be a "grim" and "complicated" investigation inside an East Lansdowne home.
The tragic incident began around 3:45 p.m. Wednesday when police received a call claiming an 11-year-old girl had been shot inside a home on Lewis Avenue.
Officers from East Lansdowne and multiple neighboring departments rushed to the scene. As officers approached the home, officials say a gunman opened fire with 40–50 bullets.
Two officers were shot and were pulled to safety by officers from Upper Darby. The wounded officers were then taken to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center where they were listed in stable condition.
Officials say East Lansdowne Police Officer David Schiazza, 54, suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and is expected to be released from the hospital Thursday afternoon. East Lansdowne Police Officer John Meehan, 44, was shot in the left arm and required "lengthy" surgery, according to authorities.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer says at some point, the home was set on fire as police surrounded the home. It is still unclear whether an 11-year-old girl was actually shot.
"We are still actively investigating the scene. We don’t know who was in the house, we don’t know who the shooter was, we don’t know how many people were in there, we don’t know their status, we don’t know if they’re alive," Stollsteimer said Wednesday night.
In an exclusive interview with Good Day Philadelphia Thursday morning, Stollsteimer said county detectives are now on the scene, and will begin the process of sifting through the remains of the completely destroyed home.
"Today might be a grim day," he said.
It is believed that the shooter is deceased inside the charred house. The DA also said the victim's family had a lot of people living in the house, including children. At least six to eight people are unaccounted for at this time.
"If people's bodies are in there, they are charred bodies, and we have to carefully work that scene," Stollsteimer said. "We are working it with heavy hearts."
However, it could still be hours, or even days, before law enforcement are able to enter the home safely and begin the excruciating search.
Drones flying over the scene have exposed hot spots, along with at least 6 feet of water in the basement due to efforts to extinguish the fire Wednesday night.
The house is also said to be completely unstable, with the possibility of its remaining walls to collapse at any time.
"This is a recovery operation," DA Stollsteimer said. "There's nobody alive inside that house. The only question is how many people whose charred remains we're going to find later on."
Officials hope to piece together what happened during what they say will be a "complicated" investigation. However, Stollsteimer says it's possible that they may never know the whole story, and he hopes to give the family some closure.
After a night full of tragedy, Stollsteimer stressed the heroics of the officers on scene while speaking to reporters outside the hospital.
"They ran up towards danger so the rest of us can run away from it--they were immediately met by gunfire, and two officers have been struck." Stollsteimer said. "It was because of the Upper Darby Police Department who also responded to that call that these officers are alive today. They were dragged out of danger by Upper Darby police officers."
As the fire raged for over two hours, residents were left stunned. "I'm shocked because nothing like this happens around here, and I have lived here a long time," said one local resident. "Nothing happens like this happens, and it’s shocking."