Lehigh Valley

DA: Possible tumultuous relationship caused Bethlehem Twp. standoff

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. - Police responded to the report of a woman down in a yard last Friday, but encountered an unexpected standoff.

A home in the 1500 block of Dennis Street was surrounded for over eight hours during which police faced gunfire from Justin Erik Kephart, 36, in Bethlehem Township.

All roads were blocked off, traffic was diverted and residents were unable to return to their homes until police found Kephart lying motionless on the floor of the home's basement late that Friday night and all was once again silent and safe.

The Northampton County Coroner identified the body in the yard as Marylouise Meixell-Moyer. The 62-year-old was Kephart's mother and lived at the home occasionally. 

The coroner said she suffered 11 gunshot wounds and the cause of death is a homicide. She was pronounced dead at 1:24 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22. 

Bethlehem Township Police Chief Dan Pancoast said in a press conference Tuesday that the first officer on scene was approached by a neighbor who pointed out the body, when the officer heard shots coming from the house toward him as he looked at the victim. 

The officer took cover behind the yard and the neighbor ran across the street, hiding behind a pickup truck. 

Pancoast said the officer narrowly avoided getting hit and stayed in place for over an hour until the Bethlehem Police Bearcat was there to rescue him. The Bearcat also rescued the stranded neighbor. 

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Sokolofsky said in Tuesday's news conference Kephart fired at vehicles and equipment occupied by emergency response teams. He said toward the end of the night, officials saw Kephart lying motionless in the basement of the home. 

The coroner said Kephart lived at the home on Dennis Street and died of a single gunshot wound to the head. The manner of death was ruled a suicide. 

A Shelter in Place lifted was lifted for residents after 10:30 p.m. on the night of the standoff and individuals were allowed back in their homes and the road blocks were removed.

Initial examination showed no evidence of automatic fire capabilities, officials said, but guns were found near Kephart and 14 spent rifle casings were found on the home's first floor. About 100 spent rounds were found near chairs at basement windows. Officials said Kephart was not legally allowed to have a gun, but his father had an arsenal and it is presumed he got his weapons from there.

"115 rounds were fired from that home and that was pretty much mostly after he had killed his mother," Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said at Tuesday's news conference. "This is another example of an individual who was not allowed to have guns, but still did."

Kephart's father, Dale Kephart, 68, took his own life on Christmas Monday, Morganelli confirmed. The Lehigh County Coroner ruled his death a suicide.

Morganelli said Justin Kephart's motive was a possible tumultuous relationship between he and his mother.

The DA made his final statement at the press conference: 

"Here we are on a Friday night, Dec. 22, a day or so before Christmas, and people are having events at their home and going places, and I can tell you, at the staging area where I was with other police, and at the scene itself, it was like a ghost town....People who were out shopping couldn't get back home, but they waited and we're talking about a long time here. So I commend the citizens of Bethlehem Township who were in that area. There were traffic jams galore across the area because of diverting traffic so that we would keep this area safe, and everyone seemed to understand the need for that. Police did a great job, all the departments, in terms of securing that area and making sure no civilians got hurt."

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