OLD FORGE, Pa. — The smiling face of a man who hated being photographed stares up from dozens of pictures glued to three sheets of poster board splayed across Charlene Modlesky’s dining room table in Edwardsville.

A wobbly-kneed child attempts to roller skate. A couple poses in garish Christmas sweaters. A man at water’s edge teaches a young boy to fish.

On Friday, friends and family of John Souder, killed Dec. 7 in Old Forge after robbing a bank in Luzerne County, prepared to remember the man they loved as they grapple with the question of why he would do something they said is so out of character.

“That’s what makes it extremely difficult. Extremely,” Modlesky, Souder’s sister, said. “We’re mad, we’re angry, we have all the emotions and we don’t know why. We may never know why, but we know the person that John was and it just doesn’t add up.”

Souder, 40, of Old Forge, robbed the M&T Bank in the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming shortly before 1:30 p.m., then led police on a chase that snaked through Pittston and north to Old Forge. Souder stopped his fiancée’s PT Cruiser in the parking lot of the Old Forge Animal Hospital, and, according to a witness in the animal hospital, fired six to eight times before a volley of bullets from law enforcement killed him.

Lackawanna County District Attorney Shane Scanlon, who is investigating if the use of force by police is justified, said he does not yet have forensics to confirm if Souder fired his weapon.

An autopsy confirmed Souder died of two gunshot wounds to his head. Coroner Tim Rowland ruled his death a homicide.

A still undisclosed number of unidentified state troopers and municipal police officers are on administrative leave while the investigation proceeds.

That Souder, who has no offenses to his name more serious than a traffic citation, would rob a bank came as a deep shock to his family and overshadowed the gentle and joking family man that they knew. His death has cast a shadow over his life.

“I have so many unanswered questions that I’ll never get the answer to. Never,” his fiancée, Beth Hunsicker, said. “I want to know why he did it, what was running through his mind, what made him do it.”

Hunsicker met Souder as she shopped for groceries in Kingston Twp. eight years ago. Souder, who drove a truck at the time, saw Hunsicker and started staring. “Weirdo,” Hunsicker thought.

“He asked me for my number, I was like no and he goes ‘Can I give you mine?'” Hunsicker, 40, said. “I was like, ‘sure’…and I called him, then it was … if he could have married me the day he met me, he probably would have.”

Souder, who loved children and wanted to be a father, got along with Hunsicker’s children and became family, Hunsicker said. The couple said they loved each other every time he left the house, no matter what.

“I wish people could have known the John that we knew,” Hunsicker said.

Summer evenings were spent around the fire pit at Modlesky’s home in Edwardsville, telling jokes and sharing stories. They won’t be the same without Souder, she said.

Souder loved dogs. His own dog, a Great Dane mix named Sarge, now sits at the foot of Souder’s chair, cries and looks for him, said Modlesky, 37.

Souder told people Hunsicker was his wife. Hunsicker responded that there was no ring on her finger. Then they got engaged. They were to be married New Year’s Eve and planned to get a marriage license Dec. 7.

Souder worked for a paving company and often worked 14 hours a day, Hunsicker said. Souder and Hunsicker were by no means rich, but they got by.

He worried about money sometimes but not to a point where he would do something so “extreme,” Souder’s mother, Joan McDonald, said.

His family said that they were aware of no struggles Souder may have had that would have led him to commit a bank robbery.

“I don’t think he thought it through because he left a lot of people devastated,” McDonald, 58, said.

McDonald said she knows what her son did was wrong and feels bad for the police officers involved.

“I’m just hoping that when their investigation’s over, they. … I don’t know what I hope,” McDonald said. “I just wish it didn’t happen.”


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Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/

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JOSEPH KOHUT, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
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