WEST BRADFORD — The manhunt for a man who shot at his ex-wife and killed his parents at their home at the Bellingham retirement complex in East Goshen came to a violent end early Thursday morning.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said Bruce Rogal, 59, of Glenmoore led police on a high-speed pursuit after he was spotted driving his 2002 Honda Odyssey on Strasburg Road, sometime around 1 a.m. after he was located with the aid of a helicopter. Shots were exchanged during the pursuit, as Rogal made his way back to his ex-wife’s home in the Brandywine Greene development in West Bradford Township, where he earlier fired six shots at her as she changed the oil in her car in her driveway. All shots missed, but hit neighboring houses.
Rogal’s vehicle eventually crashed into his wife’s residence, Hogan said. Rogal’s wife was awarded the house earlier this week during a divorce decree.
Members of the Chester County Regional Emergency Response Team and municipal police departments carefully approached the vehicle, and discovered Rogal was already dead in the driver’s seat, with other firearms still in the vehicle. It was not immediately clear whether Rogal took his own life, was shot by police, or whether injuries from the crash claimed his life.
Officials have not revealed what kind of weapon was used in the shootings.
Schools on lockdown
West Chester area schools were all placed on lockdown after police announced they were searching for an active shooter.
"We immediately locked down all 16 of our schools last night when we learned of this event,” said West Chester Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon, in a Facebook post. “Our custodial staff responded immediately to secure our buildings as part of our safety protocols. We're grateful for their quick attention."
Triggered by divorce
Hogan said the activity appears to have been triggered by a divorce decree received by Rogal on Wednesday.
“Chester County law enforcement worked cooperatively and swiftly to bring this situation to a close,” Hogan said. “Virtually every law enforcement agency and other first responders in the county and region either assisted or volunteered their assistance during the tense hours of this manhunt for a killer. The citizens of Chester County can take comfort in knowing that when dangerous situations like this take place, their police and first responders are prepared. We will continue to investigate this matter and provide additional information when the investigation is complete.”
The murders and attempted murder set off an intensive manhunt for Rogal late Wednesday night. Bellingham was on lockdown following the murders of Rogal’s parents, William and Nancy, both in their late 80s. East Goshen Elementary School was used as a temporary location for displaced families Wednesday as authorities searched for Rogal.
The marriage between Bruce D. Rogal and Catherine M. Christian had been fraught for some time, with accusations of lies, deceit, and violent behavior on his part.
The couple — he a West Chester native and graduate of Temple University with a degree in communications, she a West Chester University graduate who worked at Roy F. Weston in West Whiteland for many years before being laid off — were married in August 1990. She gave birth to a son three months later. They lived together in West Bradford for several years until the marriage dissolved in May 2015, and he moved to a rented home in Glenmoore.
At the time of their divorce, she was working two jobs and he was unemployed, claiming disability since 2013 because of a back injury and a bladder condition. He had worked in radio and television as a producer, but most recently had worked as a general contractor.
In an application for a protection from abuse order that was signed by Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Shenkin in June 2015, Christian listed several occasions when her husband had threatened or assaulted her in the previous months over matters sometimes as trivial as whether she petted their dog correctly. The two-year order prohibited him from living at their home on Vermont Drive, and forbade him from threatening or stalking her.
In the PFA hearing. however, Rogal’s attorney accused Christian of fabricating stories about abuse she suffered at his hands, arguing that she was using the PFA proceeding to get the upper hand in any future divorce actions she planned. She filed for divorce the same month as the PFA was decided. A month before, she said he attacked her in their kitchen after coming home from a date with his then-girlfriend, with whom she accused him of having an extra marital affair since 2011.
In divorce proceedings, Rogal alleged that Christian had been dishonest with him throughout their 24-year marriage, including about whether or not she wanted to have children. He accused her of hiding financial assets from court officials when the couple were dividing their finances in the proceedings. She, in turn, said that he had not been contributing to their finances after leaving his job as a contractor because of supposed health issues, which she disputed.
Rogal, said Christian’s attorney, Steven Rubin of West Chester, is “a bitter husband who is very angry at his wife,” during a hearing in February before Special Master Rochelle Grossman. At the time, Rogal was representing himself, and during the hearing made frequent reference to the couple’s troubled marriage, even though the hearing was focused on how to divide their common property — not to rehash old personal conflicts, Grossman reminded Rogal time and again.
“For the duration of the marriage, Catherine Christian has exhibited character based on dishonesty and unethical behavior,” Rogal wrote in a letter to Grossman in June, responding to Christian’s appeal of the order granting him $49,830 in a distribution of their assets.
It is unclear whether the final divorce decree that Judge Jeffery Sommer signed on Tuesday had been formally delivered to Rogal before his rampage, or how he learned of the order. The documents were not mailed until Wednesday afternoon. It was unknown whether Rubin had contacted Christian about the order, and she then contacted Rogal with the news.
Authorities, when they learned of the divorce, contacted both Sommer and Grossman and warned them of Rogal’s actions. Grossman was eventually evacuated from her home — even though the decision in the divorce had technically favored Rogal by giving him a larger share of the couple’s property than Christian wanted.
The investigation into Rogal is ongoing pending review of multiple crime scenes, autopsies, interviews with the involved troopers who discharged their weapons, and additional investigative tasks. There is also an ongoing investigation with family members into the circumstances leading to Rogal’s attempted murder of his wife and the murder of his parents.
The case was investigated by the Chester County Detectives, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Westtown/East Goshen Regional Police Department, Chester County Regional Emergency Response Team, and multiple assisting agencies. The Chester County Department of Emergency Services, the Coroner’s Office, and numerous fire companies and EMT services played critical roles in securing the scenes and assisting law enforcement. Anyone with further information is urged to contact Chester County Detective John O’Donnell at 610-344-6866.