News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.

Walling Avenue Fire

Truitt In Court To Face Charges

Truitt In Court

To Face Charges

Gabriel Truitt, 33, was led into Otsego County Court a half-hour ago, where he is now being arraigned on murder and arson charges in the Dec. 29 death of former Oneonta firefighter John Heller.  Heller was killed when a blaze allegedly set by Truitt swept up an open staircase to Heller’s third-floor apartment at 5 Walling Ave. Truitt was captured yesterday afternoon in the basement of a house adjacent to Oneonta’s police headquarters, where he was visiting his children and their mother. (Ian Austin/
Heller Might Not Have Been Target, Testimony Suggests

Heller Might Not

Have Been Target,

Testimony Suggests

Women’s Apartment Door ‘Covered’

On Floor Below Where Hero Died

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

Terrence Truitt, center, is led back into the Otsego County Corrections van following the conclusion of his felony hearing this afternoon. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – A burned spray can was found outside the door of a woman’s apartment at 5 Walling Ave., state investigators told City Judge Lucy Bernier during testimony today.

And the bottom of Heather Engler’s door was “covered,” state Fire Investigator Christopher Lupold testified.

The testimony suggests the woman may have been the target, rather than the man who died: John D. Heller, 38, who was asleep one floor up with his fiancée  and his four nephews.

The spray can, burned beyond recognition, was found amid the debris found during the investigation into the fire that killed the former Oneonta firefighter who helped the four boys and fiancée Amber Roe escape before succumbing to the fire.

Friday Funeral For Hero Firefighter

Friday Funeral Planned

For Heroic Firefighter

John Heller

ONEONTA – A funeral for John Heller, the former firefighter who died rescuing his four nephews and fiancee in the Saturday morning fire at his Walling Avenue home, will be at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4 at the Bookhout Funeral Home.

Calling hours will be 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3.

Heller served with the Oneonta Fire Department in an on-call and part-time capacity from 2002-2009.

Oneonta Firefighter Died Saving Kids, Family Reports


Oneonta Fireman

Died Saving Kids,

Sister-in-Law Says

Erika Heller posted this photo of her brother-in-law, John Heller, on Facebook as she described how the former Oneonta firefighter sacrificed his life to get her sons and his fiancee, Amber, to safety when the fire broke out at his Walling Avenue home.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Heller became trapped on the upper floor of 5 Walling Ave. after helping his nephews and his fiance escape the fire. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – John Heller, the former Oneonta firefighter who died when his home at 5 Walling Ave. caught fire Saturday morning, was trapped while helping his fiancee and his nephews escape the blaze, his sister-in-law reported.

“What began as a fun sleepover with their uncle John and soon-to-be aunt Amber turned into a nightmare,” Erika Heller, his sister-in-law, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday morning. “He died because he did everything he could to make sure that his fiancee and my sons were out of the home safely.

Former Oneonta Firefighter Killed In Early-Morning Blaze

Former Oneonta

Firefighter Killed In

Early-Morning Blaze

ONEONTA – A former part-time city firefighter was killed in a fire in his Walling Avenue home early this morning, Mayor Gary Herzig reported.

Herzig confirmed that John Heller, who had served with the Oneonta Fire Department in an on-call capacity, perished in the blaze, which started around 4 a.m. at his home at 5 Walling Ave.

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