By Jessica Bagley and Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — A gunman going by the name Joseph Hollywood was found dead in his town home almost eight hours after he set the structure on fire, police said.
The body was located between 4 and 5 p.m. Monday in the basement of the house after a tense and frightening day for neighbors and first responders, who weren't able to actively fight the fire due to the report of a gunman inside the home. Investigators have not determined whether Hollywood, 60, died as a result of the fire or from self-inflicted wounds, Lt. Nick Bado said.
Hollywood changed his name from Joseph Bryniarski several years ago.
The incident began at 9:15 a.m. when Hollywood's girlfriend called 911.
Bado said the woman was "screaming 'He's going to kill me,' saying 'He has a gun,' saying 'He's set the house on fire.'" Some neighbors had also reported hearing shots being fired shortly after 9 a.m., Bado said.
Shortly thereafter, police responded to the home, located at 163 Fries Road, and found the structure ablaze, with the woman safely outside. Unable to approach the home, officers set up a perimeter to monitor Hollywood's movement.
By 10:15 a.m., the house began collapsing and the garage was on fire. Police had not confirmed Hollywood's location. Authorities told residents to shelter in their basements and shut electricity off within 1/4 mile of the scene. All Ken-Ton schools were also placed on lockdown.
"The Town of Tonawanda Police Department has advised that all school district buildings should not allow anyone to leave or enter at this time," a statement from the district released during the incident said. "The reason is that there is a possibly deranged individual that may be related to a house fire on the corner Eggert and Fries roads. Police informed us that at some point shots may have been fired, and we will remain in lock down mode until they have found him as they are not completely sure he is in the house."
At 12:30 p.m., a SWAT team approached the property with their guns drawn, and a series of stun grenades were detonated, but Hollywood, 60, still had not been located.
Brighton and Sheridan Park firefighters were able to set up a ladder to hose water on the home, and later approached the structure from Fries Road. But by the afternoon, the home had become a pile of ashes.
The school and residential lockdowns were lifted at 1 p.m, but police later delayed the dismissal of Edison Elementary, Franklin Middle and Kenmore East schools. Meanwhile, a SWAT team searched the a nearby Mayville Avenue home for Hollywood. The team left the home empty handed, and at 4 p.m., the students were allowed to leave.
Not long after, Hollywood was found dead in the basement, where, according to neighbors, he kept an arsenal of weapons.
Town residents who watched the incident take place from the corner of Eggert and Fries described Hollywood as mentally unstable.
"He was crazy, he was a menace to the neighborhood," one neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, said. "It's too bad it had to come to this."
Hollywood has had at least 18 run-ins with police since 2003, including charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. He was also known for dressing up as Santa Claus for public events, including Bills games.