News of Otsego County

John Heller

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/

Job Corps Host Blood Drive To Honor John Heller

Job Corps Host Blood Drive

To Honor Fatal-Fire Victim

John D. Heller

ONEONTA – A community blood drive will be held in honor of John Heller, the former firefighter and Life Skill Supervisor who was killed in the Walling Street arson last December.

The community drive will be held 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21 in the gym at the Oneonta Job Corps, 21 Homer Folks Ave, with the dedication of the John Heller memorial on the third floor octagon at 2 p.m.





He Was Visiting His Kids, Their Mom

Gabriel Truitt, 33, suspect in the Dec. 29 fatal arson at 5 Walling Ave., Oneonta, was captured in the basement of 91 Main St., a building right next door to OPD headquarters. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal

ONEONTA – After 17 weeks on the run, Gabriel Truitt, 33, is in custody.

“Our detectives developed information that he was in the area and served a search warrant at 95 Main St.” – that gray, two-story apartment house right next to Oneonta Police headquarters, said Chief Doug Brenner.

Gabriel Truitt

There police found Truitt hiding in the basement of the building where his children and their mother live. He was taken into custody without incident.

Wednesday, April 17, an Otsego County Grand Jury indicted Gabriel on one count each of first-degree murder and first-degree arson, and two counts of second-degree murder for allegedly starting the Dec. 29 fire on Walling Avenue that killed John Heller, 38, a former city firefighter.

“Our theory is he intended to kill his ex-girlfriend,” said District Attorney John Muehl, “but instead he killed Mr. Heller.”

That he intended to commit a murder is transferrable, even though Heller was not the intended victim, the D.A. said.

On the night of the fire, city police arrested Gabriel for fighting with a man he saw out at a bar with his ex-girlfriend, Heather Engler. He was put in the city’s lockup, and released to his older brother Terrence, 34,  considered a “sober party,” the standard procedure for a violation, according to Brenner.

Assistant DA: We Have Truitt On Video

Assistant DA:

We Have Truitt On Video

Green: It Shows Suspect Carrying Accelerant

Gabrielle Truitt confers with his attorney Lee Kindlon after being denied bail by County Judge Brian D. Burns this morning in Otsego County Court. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – Video evidence shows accused arsonist Gabriel Truitt, 33, with the accelerant found in front of Heather Engler’s apartment door in the Walling Avenue fire that killed former Oneonta firefighter John Heller, Assistant District Attorney Will Green said during this morning’s arraignment in Otsego County Court.

“Video evidence shows the defendant with isopropyl alcohol going to and from the crime scene,” the prosecutor said.

Truitt Located In House Next To Police Department

Truitt In Basement

Of House Next Door

To OPD Headquarters

Suspect Spirited To Otsego County Jail

Accused arsonist Gabriel Truitt was found hiding the basement of 95 Main St., right next door to the city’s Public Safety building. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Gabriel Truitt

ONEONTA – Less than a week since a grand jury indicted Gabriel Truitt, 33, on first-degree murder, one count of first-degree arson, and two counts of second-degree murder in the Dec. 29 death of John Heller, 38, Oneonta Police have arrested him at 95 Main St.

The two-story apartment house is right next door to the Public Safety Building, police headquarters.

Chief: OPD Will Call In U.S. Marshals In Search For Arson Suspect Truitt

Chief: OPD Will Call In

U.S. Marshals In Search

For Arson Suspect Truitt

Chief Brenner

ONEONTA – Police Chief Douglas Brenner said a few minutes ago his department is gathering information that will allow it to bring the U.S. Marshals Office into the search for Gabriel Truitt, the former proprietor of the Tru Cut barber shop being sought in the Dec. 29 fatal fire on Walling Avenue.

The step taken by an Otsego County Grand Jury, which issued an indictment against Truitt on Wednesday, facilitates getting the Marshals Office involved, the chief said.  Previously, the OPD had been empowered only by a warrant to apprehend the suspect.





Unnamed New Suspect Is Sought

In Hero’s Death In Oneonta Fire

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

District Attorney John Muehl said that new evidence suggests that Terrence Truitt did not set the fire that killed firefighter John Heller, (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – New evidence obtained by Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl has suggested that Terrence Truitt did not set the fatal fire that killed former Oneonta firefighter John D. Heller.

Muehl said that he plans to ask the courts to release Truitt from the Otsego County Jail this afternoon.

“Our investigation has revealed additional evidence that ethically requires him to be released,” said Muehl.

The arson charges, however, will not be dropped, according to Muehl.

Senate Resolution Gives Fallen Hero Liberty Medal

Senate Resolution Gives

Fallen Hero Liberty Medal

Senator Seward Introduces Resolution In Albany
John D. Heller

ALBANY  –  The state Senate today passed a resolution bestowing its Liberty Medal, the upper house’s highest honor, on John D. Heller, the former Oneonta firefighter who saved five lives before dying in a Dec. 29 arson at 5 Walling Ave.

State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who introduced the resolution, noted it is given for “meritorious action against hostile odds.  John Heller was that type of individual.  John displayed great courage in saving the lives of his fiancé and four young nephews, and he made the ultimate sacrifice.

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/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

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.

Truitt’s Felony Hearing Rescheduled For 1:30 p.m. In Oneonta City Court

Truitt Felony Hearing Scheduled

For 1:30 p.m. In Oneonta Court

ONEONTA – Terrence Truitt, 34, suspected in the arson death of former firefighter John Heller last Saturday in the 5 Walling Ave. fire, had his felony hearing rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. today.  He was brought to the city’s Public Safety Center at 8:30 this morning, but did not appear in the courtroom during the regular morning session.

Truitt In Court On Arson Charge

Truitt In Court

On Arson Charge

Terrence Truitt, 34, arrives at Oneonta City Court, where he is attending a felony hearing at this hour. According to the felony complaint, investigators believe he intentionally set a fire in the second-floor hallway of 5 Walling Ave. Saturday, Dec. 29. The fire killed former firefighter John Heller, 38, who lived on the third floor; Heller’s funeral is at 1 p.m. today at Foothills. (Libby Cudmore & Ian Austin/




John Heller, Oneonta • 1980-2018


By: Libby Cudmore

John Heller, engaged to marry next Oct. 12, helped his fiancee, Amber Roe, and
his four nephews to safety before being trapped inside 5 Walling Ave., Oneonta,
last Saturday evening, Dec. 19


The former Oneonta firefighter made sure his four nephews, Donovan, 9, John Heller died a hero.

Maddox, 7, Macall, 5 and Rawley, 2, as well as his fiancée, Amber Roe, were safe when an early-morning fire broke out in his 5 Walling Ave. home on Saturday, Dec. 29.

“He and Amber are my heroes,” his sister-in-law, Erika Heller, wrote in an emotional Facebook tribute. “They saved my babies and he made the ultimate sacrifice for our family.”

According to Heller, the boys were spending the night at the home when the fire broke out just after 4 a.m.

“What began as a fun sleepover with their uncle John and soon-to-be aunt Amber turned into a nightmare,” wrote Heller.

Leads Poured In, Leading To Arrest Of Oneonta Man, 34


Leads Poured In,

Leading To Arrest

Of Oneonta Man, 34

Police, Fire Chiefs Detail What’s Known

Fire Chief Pat Pidgeon, left, and Police Chief Doug Brenner detail what they know at a 5 p.m. press conference in Oneonta City Hall. For a video of the press conference, click here.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Terrence Truitt

ONEONTA – Within hours of Saturday morning’s fire that claimed the life of former Oneonta firefighter John D. Heller, the leads began to pour in.

“We had more than 70 leads,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner an hour ago at a press conference held jointly with Fire Chief Pat Pidgeon. “And the investigation is continuing.”

The men reported Terrence Truitt, 34, Oneonta, was arrested and charged with first-degree arson, which investigators believe started on the second floor of 5 Walling Ave.

Heller and his fiancee, Amber Roe, lived on the top floor, and had their four nephews staying with them that night. Heller and Roe helped the children escape, but then was unable to get out of the building.



Posts navigation

21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103