By Jessica Bagley and Jill Keppeler
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — A gunman going by the name Joseph Hollywood was found dead in his Fries Road home almost eight hours after he set it on fire.
The body was located between 4 and 5 p.m. in the basement of the house after a tense and frightening day for neighbors and first responders, who weren't able to actively fight the fire due to the report of a gunman inside the home. Investigators have not determined whether Hollywood, 60, died as a result of the fire or from self-inflicted wounds, Lt. Nick Bado said.
Town residents who watched the incident take place from the corner of Eggert and Fries described Hollywood as mentally unstable.
"He was crazy, he was a menace to the neighborhood," one neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, said. "It's too bad it had to come to this."
Hollywood legally changed his name from Joseph Bryniarski 10 years ago and was charged in 2000 with disorderly conduct while dressed as Santa at a Buffalo Bills game. There had been 18 more encounters with police since 2003.
Monday's incident began at 9:15 a.m. when Hollywood's girlfriend called 911.
Bado said the woman was "screaming 'He's going to kill me,' saying 'He has a gun,' saying 'He's set the house on fire.'" Some neighbors had also reported hearing shots being fired shortly after 9 a.m., Bado said.
Shortly thereafter, police responded to the home, located at 163 Fries Road, and found the structure ablaze, with the woman safely outside. Unable to approach the home, officers set up a perimeter to monitor Hollywood's movement.
By 10:15 a.m., the house began collapsing and the garage was on fire. Police had not confirmed Hollywood's location. Authorities told residents to shelter in their basements and shut electricity off within 1/4 mile of the scene. All Ken-Ton schools were also placed on lockdown. At 12:30 p.m., a SWAT team approached the property with their guns drawn, and a series of stun grenades were detonated, but Hollywood, 60, still had not been located.
Brighton and Sheridan Park firefighters were able to set up a ladder to hose water on the home, and later approached the structure from Fries Road. But by the afternoon, the home had become a pile of ashes.
The school and residential lockdowns were lifted at 1 p.m, but police later delayed the dismissal of Edison Elementary, Franklin Middle and Kenmore East schools. Meanwhile, a SWAT team searched the a nearby Mayville Avenue home for Hollywood. The team left the home empty handed, and at 4 p.m., the students were allowed to leave.
Not long after, Hollywood was found dead in the basement, where, according to neighbors, he kept an arsenal of weapons.