HARRISBURG - For those who witnessed his historic public suicide, the ghost of the late treasurer R. Budd Dwyer still haunts the Capitol.
When news broke late last month that Rob McCord would step down as treasurer and plead guilty to federal criminal charges, it stopped some Harrisburg veterans in their tracks.
They had flashbacks to the snowy day in January 1987 when Dwyer, a Crawford County teacher and former lawmaker who had risen to statewide office, stunned the state and the nation with his horrifying final act.
Some could not grasp that McCord, who admitted last week that he shook down contractors for campaign contributions, committed his crimes while occupying the same office where Dwyer - convicted of similar crimes - put a .357 Magnum in his mouth and pulled the trigger as reporters yelled at him to stop and cameras rolled.
The crack of the gun. The clicks of photographers' cameras. The screams of reporters.
For some, the Dwyer moment has never left them.
"Whenever I hear the word treasurer, the thought is not far behind," said Steve Drachler, former spokesman for House leader John M. Perzel who covered the event as a reporter for the Morning Call of Allentown. "When the McCord story broke, the Budd Dwyer story popped into my mind."
Dwyer, long dogged by accusations of wrongdoing, was in his second term when a federal jury found him guilty of conspiracy, perjury, wire fraud, and racketeering, along with codefendant Bob Asher, the Republican Party committeeman from Montgomery County, who spent a year in prison for the crime.
Dwyer, 47, was set to be sentenced in federal court in Williamsport on Jan. 23, 1987, for awarding a $4.6 million no-bid contract in 1984 to a California computer company in return for a promised $300,000.
He faced up to 55 years in prison.
On the eve of his sentencing, Dwyer called a news conference in his executive office in the finance building across from the Capitol. The press corps assumed he would announce his resignation and assembled in his office.
Dwyer handed out a 20-page statement that appeared to be missing the last page.
From behind a desk positioned like a barricade between himself and the reporters, he began reading what witnesses recalled as a "rambling" speech, proclaiming his innocence and calling himself a victim of "political persecution."
As minutes ticked away, reporters wondered where he was going with his remarks.
"I asked Dwyer's aide, 'What's he doing?' " recalled Tony Romeo, now a KYW-AM reporter, who was working for a statewide radio network at the time.
The aide said he didn't know.
Dwyer looked up from his statement and said, "It's too late for me," reached down, and pulled the long-barreled handgun out of a manila envelope.
"I said, 'No, Budd, don't!' " said Nell McCormack Abom, who was a reporter for WITF-TV and who today still recalls the size of the weapon. "It was huge. He had a huge head and that gun had an extended barrel."
She said she thought he would kill himself. Others ducked for cover, thinking he might be angry at the media and turn the gun on them.
Then, holding the gun in his mouth with his right hand and with his left hand holding the crowd at bay, suddenly there was a large boom, recalled Romeo, who was changing his tape at the time.
"I was just sort of frozen," he said.
Abom ran to the office next door to call her news desk, and she recalled they thought she was joking. She returned to see the bloodied Dwyer slumped against the drapes before security agents hustled her out.
Some left journalism after witnessing the horror. Many were haunted by the scene long after.
"For years after when someone would hold a press conference and not be clear about what it was about, I would get a hinky feeling," said Romeo.
For Abom, witnessing the event made her more certain she wanted to pursue a career in journalism.
"It does stay with me," she said. "It made me a much sharper observer of human behavior. It made me more interested in the news business."
Later, the unread portion of Dwyer's statement revealed he had intended to end with a suicide note that urged those with weak stomachs to leave and that said he hoped "the sacrifice of my life is not in vain."
Dwyer added: "Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S."