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Suspect in Tonawanda police detective's shooting charged, held without bail

Erie County District Attorney's Office

A 28-year-old City of Tonawanda resident was charged Wednesday morning with multiple attempted murder and weapons possession counts in a pair of shootings which wounded a neighbor and later a Tonawanda police detective.

Matthew Gerwitz was arraigned before State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller via videoconferencing. He entered not guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree attempted murder of a police officer, a second-degree attempted murder charge, and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. 

"It is very fortunate that, as of now, there has not  been a loss of life," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn following the arraignment.

Gerwitz is accused of two shooting incidents on Morgan Street in the City of Tonawanda early Tuesday morning. The first happened shortly after 1 a.m., during which an individual was struck by gunfire in the stomach.

The 32-year-old victim, whose name has not been released, remains hospitalized as of late Wednesday morning. Flynn says the shooter and victim knew each other but would not explain further.

"I don't want to go into exactly what the relationship was but suffice it to say they knew one another," he said.

Prosecutors say later, around 3:30 a.m., as police were investigating the original crime scene, Gerwitz returned to the neighborhood and, after briefly entering his residence, came back outside and allegedly opened fire upon officers. Detective David Ljiljanich, who has served with the City of Tonawanda Police for 17 years, was struck multiple times. He has since been released from the hospital.

Flynn says different guns were used in each incident, none of which were legal.

"In the first shooting, he allegedly used a nine millimeter handgun which was illegal, because it was a homemade weapon that had no serial number on it and did not have a permit for it," he said. "When he went back into his house, and confronted the police who had arrived at the scene, he came downstairs with an assault weapon. Again, allegedly another handmade weapon that he made at his home. And the reason why this one was illegal was because of the various modifications that he made to this assault weapon that made it a violation of the SAFE Act."

The suspect was later caught following a car chase. One of the police officers involved suffered a broken wrist after the patrol car in which he was riding rammed the suspect's vehicle.

Gerwitz remains held without bail. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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