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‘You’re in danger.’ What happened the night of the Chester County nursing home murders

The morning news conference at the Chester County Justice Center marked the first time the district attorney had spoken publicly about the case since last Wednesday night, when he addressed reporters amid a multi-state manhunt for Bruce Rogal.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan speaks of his office's investigation into Bruce Rogal, the 59-year-old Glenmoore man who attempted to kill his ex-wife last Wednesday night and then fatally shot his parents, Nancy and William, in their apartment at Bellingham senior living community near West Chester, Wednesday, September 26, 2018.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan speaks of his office's investigation into Bruce Rogal, the 59-year-old Glenmoore man who attempted to kill his ex-wife last Wednesday night and then fatally shot his parents, Nancy and William, in their apartment at Bellingham senior living community near West Chester, Wednesday, September 26, 2018.Read moreDAVID SWANSON/STAFF P

The warning to Nancy Rogal came too late.

"You're in danger," her grandson called to say. Then, he heard the line go dead.

Nancy Rogal, 87, and her husband, William, 89, were shot to death while sitting side by side in recliners, as they had often done throughout their long marriage. Their son killed them.

Moments later, an official at the Bellingham retirement community in East Goshen would find the Rogals alone in their apartment, bleeding from gunshot wounds to the head.

"It was just a sad sight," Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said Wednesday. "A man and a woman, who spent their life together, were sitting there peacefully. It looked like they had just been sitting there watching TV, and they had been killed by their own son."

Hours earlier, their son, Bruce Rogal, had shot at his ex-wife, Catherine Christian, outside her home in West Bradford. By the next morning, he would be dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the end of a police chase.

Over the last week, law enforcement officials have worked to piece together exactly what happened on the night of Sept. 19. At a news conference Wednesday, they laid out a captivating timeline of the killer's final hours and shed light on what may have motivated his attacks.

Rogal raged against the world, authorities said. He complained constantly about Christian, his three siblings, and his parents, who raised him and provided for him even as a middle-aged man.

He harbored a grudge against his mother, who he thought dropped him from a bassinet when he was a baby and caused his back problems later in life. He resented his father, who he believed was too hard on him when he was a boy, and his siblings, who he said had too much control over his parents.

Rogal's marriage had ended, he was on the verge of eviction and on the day before he killed his parents, his divorce was finalized.

No one will ever know which grudge led to the shootings, authorities said, or whether it was an accumulation of years of rage.

"Bruce Rogal went through his life with a grudge against everybody," Hogan said. "The only person who really knows why he did what he did, what exactly set him off, is Bruce Rogal."

Rogal, who worked for years as a television and news producer and later as a general contractor, had been unemployed since 2013 because of a back injury and bladder condition, according to court records filed in the divorce case. He spent his last days waking up around noon, checking the news, and then watching porn on his computer late into the night, his computer hard drive showed. On Google, he had been searching how long a divorce takes to finalize and repeatedly pulling up images of Christian's home on Google Maps, perhaps planning his attack, Hogan said.

Rogal lived in an apartment at Glenmoore's James Mobile Home Park, but he was being evicted, Hogan said.

Around 4:55 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, Rogal logged on to his computer one last time to visit a porn site. Then, armed with a .40-caliber Glock handgun and a semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle — weapons he legally owned — Rogal got into his 2002 silver Honda Odyssey minivan and headed to West Bradford.

He pulled up to the Vermont Lane home he once shared with Christian. As his ex-wife changed the oil in her car in the driveway, Rogal pulled out his Glock and began firing. He shot at her six times as she ran down the street and eventually into a neighbor's home.

As Rogal sped off, Christian called police, and later her grown son, Walter, who was at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, about to head home to Chester County. Christian told her son his father had just shot at her and that, for his own safety, he should not come home, according to Hogan. Walter Rogal texted other relatives to warn them and called his grandparents.

Rogal had a key to his parents' Bellingham apartment, Hogan said, but authorities did not know what occurred in the moments before he killed them, or exactly how much time, if any, he spent in the apartment before pulling the trigger. At the time of the murders, officials at Bellingham were installing video cameras in the lobby and other areas of the facility, Hogan said.

By 6:30 p.m., Nancy and William Rogal were dead, and their son had fled, setting in motion a multistate manhunt for the gunman. The retirement community was placed on lockdown, and residents of Chester County were on edge.

After killing his parents, authorities said Wednesday, Rogal drove 17 miles to a friend's home in East Fallowfield in western Chester County. He drank a beer and complained about his family and ex-wife as he usually did. He said nothing of the killings. Later that night, when the friend heard about the manhunt, he called police to tell them of the visit, Hogan said.

With the help of that tip, Pennsylvania State Police troopers spotted Rogal's van on Strasburg Road in East Fallowfield. They began following him, attempting in vain to pull him over. As they continued to trail him, they suddenly realized he was heading back toward Christian's home in West Bradford.

"As soon as we realize that is where he is heading, everybody realizes this is bad news," Hogan said. "Psychologically, he is getting ready for a last stand."

Around 1 a.m., Rogal drove his car into the side of his ex-wife's home. Hearing the sound of gunfire, and seeing him move inside the car, officers fired. But as they approached, they realized Rogal was dead from a gunshot wound through the mouth, Hogan said.

"He was not shot and killed by the state police," Hogan said. "He was killed by his own hand."

By that time, authorities had moved Rogal's relatives and ex-wife to safety.

Rogal did not leave a note, Hogan said. Authorities have yet to comb through any electronic devices or his cell phone, aside from his computer hard drive. It was unclear whether he texted or called anyone that evening.

Rogal had a minor criminal record that included a street fight and dropped harassment charges, Hogan said, but nothing that would have prohibited him from legally owning or carrying guns.

"We obviously see in retrospect that there are mental health issues here," Hogan said. Yet Rogal  "could interact with people on a regular basis."

While such violence shook residents of bucolic Chester County, Rogal had terrorized Christian for years behind closed doors, court records show. According to court documents and a transcript of a hearing in which a judge granted Christian a protection-from-abuse order, Rogal violently abused his wife, punching her in the back of the head, threatening to beat her with  a baseball bat, slamming her into walls, jabbing her in the stomach, and spitting in her face.

More than three years ago, Christian told a judge she feared Rogal would take a gun, perhaps the one he kept in his bedroom, and hurt her with it. At the time, she was asking the judge to grant a protection-from-abuse-order and was filing for divorce.

"Without the PFA order, the guns are his to do with what he pleases. And I feel very threatened by that," Christian said. "And with the divorce pending I'm afraid that once the contentions related to that are a factor, on top of his usually angry and violent nature … I believe I'll be hurt at some point because of that."

Rogal's surviving relatives could not be reached for comment this week. At the protection-from-abuse hearing, Rogal denied abusing Christian, sometimes blaming her and saying she attacked him.

Christian also could not be reached. Her lawyer, Steven H. Rubin, said she was understandably shaken by the attacks.

Her protection-from-abuse order against Rogal lapsed in June 2017, at which point Rogal took back possession of his guns, Hogan said. Rubin said that since the protection order was granted, there had been no instances of domestic violence  — until last week.