Two firefighters have died and two more are fighting for their lives after they came under attack while responding to a blaze in a community in the northeastern state of New York. The shooting came as many Americans prepared to celebrate Christmas and as many were still trying to come to terms with the shooting rampage this month that killed 26 people, including 20 school children.
For the small of town of Webster in New York State, the day before Christmas (December 24) brought the unthinkable, an attack on firefighters rushing to put out a blaze.
"The responding firefighters when they pulled up on the scene started receiving, were fired upon by one or more shooters," said Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering.
He said two of the emergency responders were killed on the scene, while another two were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. They are expected to survive what investigators now believe was a fire set as an ambush, by a lone gunman, who also died.
The shooting comes just days after the nation held a moment of silence for the six teachers and 20 children gunned down at an elementary school in Connecticut on December 14, an incident that reignited the contentious debate over gun control.
Already, the shooting of first responders in Webster has hardened the resolve of those who want more restrictions on guns.
New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, issued a statement saying - quote - "we stand with our partners in law enforcement to ensure that lethal weapons are out of the hands of dangerous people."
Tighe Barry with the group Code Pink says the shooting should be a call to action. “Starting with an assault weapons ban, starting with more extensive background checks, starting with trying to get these extended magazines and barrel type magazines off the market," she said.
Dave Workman is senior editor of the TheGunMag.com, a publication by the gun rights group the Second Amendment Foundation. He said Monday that when it comes to the Webster shooting, "We just don't know enough to comment one way or the other."
On Friday, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the country's largest gun rights lobby, said taking guns out of the hands of responsible people is not the answer. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.
Both sides of the debate are calling for President Barack Obama and lawmakers to take action now. But in the meantime, in places like Newtown, Connecticut, where a makeshift memorial to the 20 school children killed earlier this month still stands, the mourning continues.
Renette Cyr is visiting from out of town. "I pray for everybody here, you know. To do their best. I am just grieving for them. It's so, so sad," she said.
A sense of despair gripping parts of the country during what most had hoped would be a joyous holiday season.
Related video footage from scene of fire