Friends, family remember Pa. shooting victims

Retired Loyola professor charged in deaths of wife, stepson still under guard

`I still can't even believe it'

April 28, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

TWO GUNS — The wife and stepson of a retired Loyola College professor who is charged with their killings each died of multiple gunshots, the York County, Pa., coroner's office said yesterday.

Two guns - a 9 mm handgun and a .38 caliber handgun - were used during the Sunday afternoon shooting at Donald B. Hofler's home in Shrewsbury Township, Pa., said Pennsylvania State Trooper Jeff Rineer.

Hofler, 70, who has been charged with two counts of criminal homicide, remained under guard at York Hospital last night, where he was recovering from an apparent suicide attempt during which he swallowed more than 100 tablets of Valium, police said.

When he is well enough, Hofler, a professor emeritus who trained hundreds of Maryland reading teachers, will be taken to the York County Prison and held without bail, police said.

Friends and relatives of the Hofler family were still coming to terms yesterday with the charges against Donald Hofler. They also were preparing to bury Rita K. Hofler, a 48-year-old first-grade teacher in Harford County, and her 17-year-old son, Kevin J. Gehring, a budding photographer and high school junior in Pennsylvania.

Funeral services for the two are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 8501 Loch Raven Blvd. in Parkville.

Rita Hofler and Gehring, her son from a previous marriage, were trying to distance themselves from Hofler months before the shootings, relatives said.

"She was just finally starting to get some happiness," said Debbie Hofler, a 38-year-old niece of Donald Hofler's who said she became one of Rita Hofler's closest friends. "And then this happens. I still can't even believe it."

Debbie Hofler, a Millersville resident, described her uncle as "a stingy, volatile man with no patience whatsoever." She said he had few close friends and was livid when Rita Hofler decided to leave him about two months ago.

Donald Hofler's former Loyola colleagues described him as distraught over the separation from his wife and said he thought he had been a good husband.

Rita and Donald Hofler met in the late 1980s, when she was a student in one of his classes at Loyola, relatives said. They said the two married at a Baltimore courthouse on Valentine's Day in 1989, when Gehring was a toddler.

Soon after, the family moved to a single-story home on Penny Lane in a neighborhood called Strawberry Fields, just over the state line, near New Freedom, Pa.

Rita Hofler loved the house, Debbie Hofler said, and was a meticulous housekeeper. An avid Disney fan, Rita Hofler filled a room in her basement with Disney characters. With money she had inherited from her father, she installed an in-ground swimming pool about three years ago, Debbie Hofler said.

She loved to spend summer afternoons floating in the pool and reading novels by Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, Debbie Hofler said.

But in recent months, Rita Hofler was so miserable at home that she described her once-beloved rancher as "just a pile of bricks," Debbie Hofler said. She and her son had recently moved to a townhouse about two miles away, and Rita Hofler had filed for divorce.

Donald Hofler's initial court appearance is tentatively scheduled for May 5.

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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