It erupted in gunfire Wednesday morning, when police say a man suspected of shooting a state trooper wounded two more officers, killing one. After a nearly nine-hour standoff, it erupted in flames shortly after troopers staged an assault.
The house was destroyed, and police believed late Wednesday that the suspect who had holed up there, Travis D. Trim, died inside. When the fire died down, police found a body inside but could not immediately confirm that it was Trim's.
"The body was slumped in a doorway holding a rifle," said Preston Felton, acting superintendent of the New York State Police, at a news conference Wednesday night.
More questions remained as the ashes smoldered: Had the non-incendiary tear gas canisters fired into the house by troopers ignited — or fed — the blaze? Was Trim alive or dead from earlier gunfire when the fire erupted? Had he set the fire to cover an escape attempt?
Trim's family had questions of their own — how a 23-year-old with a knack for fixing engines went from trying to turn around a rough life to being suspected of shooting three troopers.
"He was a smart kid. I don't know what happened to him," his grandmother, Ruth Trim, said before the fire.
The standoff came just seven months after the arrest of a man who shot three troopers, one fatally, during a months-long manhunt in western New York.
The first shooting Trim is accused of occurred Tuesday, after a trooper stopped him in a stolen minivan for a minor traffic infraction in the Margaretville area.
When Trim failed to provide identification, Trooper Matthew Gombosi told him he was under arrest, Felton said. Then, he said, Trim pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot Gombosi. His body armor kept him from being seriously injured, but the suspect escaped, police said.
Police swept the area and found the stolen Dodge Caravan abandoned on a road in nearby Middletown.
The farmhouse where Trim apparently holed up, in a hamlet near Margaretville called Arkville, is on a property that includes two red barns. Neighbors described it as a weekend residence, but it was unclear who owned it.
Wednesday morning, Troopers David C. Brinkerhoff and Richard Mattson were shot during a confrontation while searching the farmhouse for Trim, Felton said.
"They had a good 20 shots going back and forth," said Chan Squires of Margaretville, who witnessed the shootings. "You could hear them ringing out."
The wounded troopers were pulled from the house by two other officers who were helping search the farm as part of a massive police sweep through the area.
Brinkerhoff, who was shot in the head, died shortly after the shooting. Mattson, wounded in the left arm, was in serious but stable condition after surgery at Albany Medical Center, where he had been taken by helicopter.
An initial blast of activity — police cars and helicopters converging on the house — was followed by hours of waiting. Police sent a robot into the house to search for Trim, going room-by-room with a camera. They couldn't get into one room and that's where the believe Trim was hunkered down.
Brinkerhoff, 29, an eight-year member of the state police, is survived by his wife and a 7-month-old daughter. He is the second New York state trooper and the second member of the force's specially trained Mobile Response Team to be slain during a manhunt since September.
Last summer, Ralph "Bucky" Phillips led police on a five-month manhunt throughout heavily wooded western New York after breaking out of a county jail. During his time on the run, he shot one trooper during a traffic stop and two others who were searching for him. One of those troopers later died.
Phillips was captured in September and is serving two life sentences. After that manhunt, the union that represents state troopers sharply criticized the way state police officials managed the search.
Trim has a 2005 conviction for driving while intoxicated and aggravated, unlicensed operation, but his grandmother said he had tried to turn his life around.
"He wanted to go to college. We talked to his probation officer to help fix it up," Ruth Trim said in a telephone interview from her home in Dickinson Center. "I'm devastated. He was going to go to college to make something of himself. Now, he's really ruined his life."
Trim had been enrolled briefly at the State University of New York-Canton but withdrew in November, said Randy Sieminski, a school spokesman. He was registered in the school's motorsports performance and repair program.
Trim had been arrested on charges of marijuana possession and providing alcohol to a minor while at SUNY-Canton, but his family and officials at schools he attended were stunned to hear he was a shooting suspect.
"It's all so bizarre," said Mark Hill, a SUNY-Canton instructor who had Trim in a freshman class. "He had no bad dealings here. He got along with everyone and worked well in team settings."
At the state Capitol on Wednesday, the Republican state Senate leader demanded the Democratic governor use his influence to bring back the death penalty, saying it had apparently become "open season on law enforcement people."
A New York Court of Appeals ruling in 2005 effectively nullified the death penalty in the state. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said his chamber would approve legislation next week to bring it back for the killing of police officers and prison guards and in cases of deaths caused by terrorists.
Ruth Trim said she was angry at her grandson for dropping out of college. She said she tried to steer him away from drugs and alcohol.
"He missed Thanksgiving dinner. He missed Christmas. I was mad at him for screwing up his life. I didn't really know or care where he was — as long as he was all right," she said.
"I was so proud of him. I always scolded him about drugs and liquor," she said. "I hope people don't blame us. At 23, you're responsible for you're own decisions. We always tried to help him."