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News of Otsego County

Amber Roe

At Sentencing, Heller’s Family Lashes Truitt
‘He Can’t Destroy Anyone Else’s Life Ever Again’

AT SENTENCING,

HELLER’S FAMILY

LASHES TRUITT

Erika Heller, center, criticizes Gabriel Truitt, foreground, for rolling his eyes as she read her victim’s impact statement at Truitt’s sentencing this morning. Truitt, who was found guilty of the arson and murder of John Heller in January, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Truitt slouches in his chair as County Judge Brian Burns reads off a list of his prior convictions, starting when he was 17 years old.

COOPERSTOWN – Erika Heller, John Heller’s sister-in-law, did not hold back as she read her victim’s impact statement at the sentencing of Gabriel Truitt in Otsego County Court this morning.

“You stole John from us,” she said. “For four young boys, you stole childhood and innocence and peace of mind. We are all serving a life sentence because of the selfish decision you made. You should have to do the same.”

Truitt, 35, was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of John Heller, who died rescuing his fiancée, Amber Roe, and his four nephews after Truitt set a fire in the 5 Walling Ave. apartment house where they lived in an attempt to murder his girlfriend, Heather Engler, who he had fought with prior to setting the fire on Dec. 29, 2018.

‘I Had To Do It For John’ Fiancee Recalls At Guilty Verdict

Truitt Guilty Of Arson, Murder

‘I Had To Do It For John,’

Fiancee Declares At Verdict

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com

Erika Heller, left, embraces Amber Roe, fiancee of the late John Heller, who died rescuing her and Erika’s four sons from a fire that Gabriel Truitt was found guilty of setting this afternoon. (Libby Cudmore/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – It took just over two hours for the jury to find Gabriel Trutt, 33, guilty of arson and murder in the Dec. 29, 2018, fatal fire at 5 Walling Ave., Oneonta, that killed John Heller.

Heller, a former Oneonta fireman, got his four nephews and fiancée to safety before he was trapped in the third-floor apartment and succumbed to the smoke.  He was hailed as a hero.

“I’m thrilled, but this isn’t about whether I won or lost,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “This really is justice. He was guilty and the evidence was overwhelming. We can’t bring John back, but we did as much as we could for him.”

Job Corps Honors Fallen Hero Heller

Job Corps Honors

Fallen Hero Heller

Chris Kuhn, Director of the Oneonta Job Corps Academy, addresses family, friends and firefighters gathered in ‘the octagon,’ a hallway interchange on the third floor of Oneonta Job Corps named in honor of the late John D. Heller, who lost his life in December rescuing his fiancee and their nephews from the Walling Street arson. “We love him and we miss him.” said Kuhn. “It is our hope that when people walk through this space they will see his story and be inspired.” Members of the Oneonta Fire Department were present, as well as Mayor Gary Herzig, who remarked “This intersection was always full of life, it is only fitting it should be named after him.” At right, Heller’s fianceé Amber Roe speaks beneath his photo. “This is where we met. We spent a lot of time here talking and it was here fell in love.” Photos and stories of Heller’s life and sacrifice, along with his helmet signed by loved ones, are now on display in the John D. Heller Memorial. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Words Like ‘Love, Courage, Loss’ Used To Recall Fallen Hero

Words Like ‘Love,

Courage, Loss’ Used

To Recall Fallen Hero

Family, Friends Reflect On John Heller,

As 350 Pack Funeral In Foothills Atrium

Erika and Michael Heller, right, hold close two of their four boys who John Heller – her brother-in-law; his brother – rescued from an arson last Saturday, losing his own life.  To their right is Amber Roe, John’s fiance. In the foreground, Heller’s pallbearers console each other after placing the casket in the hearse after today’s funeral in Foothills’ Atrium. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Sister-in-law Erika Heller recalls John’s sacrifice under the watchful eye of Pastor Thistle.

ONEONTA – “You spent your last day on Earth saving others,” his sister-in-law, Erika Heller, declared this afternoon at John Heller’s funeral. “We are so proud.”

Erika, along with John’s fiance Amber Roe,  his Oneonta Job Corps colleague Kathleen Feeney, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and the Rev. Judith Thistle, pastor of Worcester’s Second Baptist Church, addressed 350 mourners – reflective, often tearful – this afternoon in Foothills’ Atrium.

At calling hours at Bookhout Funeral Home last evening, the line was up to 2 1/2 hours long.

Today’s speakers painted an affectionate picture of a young man who had grown into a brave, loving, dedicated adult, full of humanity and humor.

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