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The New Jersey Record
December 19, 1995
Author: By MARY McGRATH, Staff Writer; The Record
As darkness fell, the Rev. James Newman plunged deeper into the snowy woods in Bloomingdale, desperately tracking the footprints of a distraught man armed with a rifle who had run from his parents’ home. Newman heard on a nearby police scanner that Kenneth Conley, 37, a divorced father of two, was asking to see him. Newman, Conley’s pastor at Christ Chapel Evangelical Church in Kinnelon, was within a few hundred yards of Conley when darkness slowed him, and the fatal shots from a police officer’s gun rang out.
As Conley lay dying, Newman ran to him and knelt, pleading, “Hold on, you can make it,” said Conley’s employer, Ian Grinyer, who stood nearby. “He was moving his legs and moaning,” Grinyer said. “We waited all night at the hospital. His mom and dad and the pastor went up to see him. But he was too badly injured to make it.” Conley, 37, was shot to death by a police officer after he ignored repeated pleas to surrender and later charged at the officer while pointing a gun, Police Commissioner Jeff Montemarano said Monday. Conley died early Saturday, about 10 hours after the shooting. He was shot once in the chest, authorities said, and did not survive surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital.
His death left many unanswered questions. Friends said Conley was a recovering alcoholic who had taken his last drink a year earlier. His life seemed on the mend. He had moved in with his parents in town, reestablished a relationship with his two teenage daughters, and landed a job at JIT Printing, a shop owned by Grinyer in Bloomingdale. He exhibited no violent behavior, and spent his off hours trying to help the needy, Grinyer said. Last week, in fact, Conley and Grinyer took a carload of coats to the Good Shepherd shelter for men in Paterson. “A year before, he’d been drinking and was on the street,” Grinyer said. “He remembered the homeless people. He told me, `It’s cold on the streets and there’s no one to help them.'” Conley recently took clothes to a Bloomingdale family burned out in a fire. He also helped Bob Stellings, a kidney patient confined to a wheelchair, lifting him at his home and church, Conley’s friends said. “He was a giving person who went out of his way to make other people feel happy,” said Nancy Stellings, Stellings’ wife.
The death brought to a close a friendship that began 18 months ago, when Grinyer, a fellow church member, put Conley up at the YMCA in Paterson, checked him into the alcoholism recovery program, and then gave him a job. He was a good worker, Grinyer said. For unknown reasons, Conley’s emotional state deteriorated by Friday, possibly as a result of financial pressures. Grinyer said he owed $40,000 to a hospital that treated him for emotional problems in 1994. He was under a psychiatrist’s care, but had stopped taking the drug Prozac in the past several weeks, Grinyer said. Grinyer said he and Newman went to see Conley at his parents’ home Friday afternoon, fearing that he had been drinking. Conley fled the house and wandered through the neighborhood carrying a .30-caliber M-1 carbine and another unidentified gun, Montemarano said. Police arrived after a resident on Sandra Lane reported seeing an armed man in her back yard. Nearby, across a small lake, Newman and Grinyer were trying to follow him. “We were across the lake. We didn’t know where he was,” Grinyer said. Police spotted Conley wandering through the Glenwild Garden Center, where he fired at officers, police said. He was shot as he emerged from the side of a nearby house and charged Officer Mark Gildersleeve with a rifle, Montemarano said.
Passaic County Prosecutor Ronald S. Fava said the shooting is under investigation, which is routine when an officer fires his weapon. Montemarano said the Bloomingdale Police Department has determined the shooting was justified. Gildersleeve, a veteran of about 10 years on the force, is on duty pending the outcome of the prosecutor’s investigation, Montemarano said. The death was the first fatal police shooting in Bloomingdale. “I hate to see anyone get killed,” Montemarano said. “I also have to feel for that police officer. That’s something he has to live with, but he had to protect himself. There are no winners; it’s a terrible situation.” Authorities are awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology reports. Neither Fava nor Montemarano was sure whether there were witnesses, other than the police. Grinyer described Conley as “a man who loved God and loved people, and he wanted to help everyone. But he had this problem that led him into a trap. He couldn’t overcome it. It was a weakness he had.”
Staff Writer Ray Alexander Smith contributed to this article.
Copyright 1995 Bergen Record Corp.
Record Number: 2220118