Employees with Erie County and the City of Lackawanna were shocked after learning that the body of a county administrator and city employee was found Monday in Cattaraugus Creek near the Scoby Dam county park just south of Springville.
Daniel K. Fitzgibbons, 47, the county's deputy commissioner of buildings and grounds, had apparently taken his own life Monday after a series of "very strange events" over the weekend involving a text message sent to Fitzgibbons' cellphone contacts early Sunday.
The Sheriff's Office is conducting a suicide investigation into the death, said spokesman Scott Zylka.
Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said his police department is trying to determine who sent a lengthy text message from Fitzgibbons' phone early Sunday. Szymanski, a longtime friend, said Fitzgibbons had reported his cellphone stolen Sunday. His body was found Monday, a few hours after he had reported to work.
"It's destroyed all of us, trying to wrap our minds around this," Szymanski said.
Early Sunday, a lengthy and disturbing text message was sent from Fitzgibbons' phone to the people on his contact list, apparently in alphabetical order, according to two people who received the text message and others who have subsequently read it and are looking into the matter.
The Buffalo News has a copy of the message but is not publishing information about it because it could not be verified.
Aside from his work as a marshal serving subpoenas and warrants for Lackawanna, Fitzgibbons, a 20-year county employee, has served as deputy commissioner for buildings and grounds for the past two years, overseeing the maintenance and repair of more than 200 county buildings and structures.
Fitzgibbons came into work at his usual time, shortly after 6:30 a.m. Monday, said Charles Sickler, Erie County's deputy commissioner of highways. The two men chatted about golf before Fitzgibbons left the office. Word spread about his death a few hours later.
Szymanski said the entire city has been "devastated" by news of Fitzgibbons' death.
Like Szymanski, Sickler described Fitzgibbons as a kind and well-respected figure who was "totally loved" by his county colleagues and whose death has hit employees in the Department of Public Works hard. He and others described Fitzgibbons as a towering figure who stood close to 7-feet tall and was a welcome presence wherever he went.
County spokesman Daniel Meyer declined to comment on the matter beyond confirming the death and sharing an email sent to county employees making grief counselors available to those who need them.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz subsequently posted a statement on Twitter Tuesday calling Fitzgibbons "a good and kind-hearted man," friend and devoted husband.
"We are all going to be a lot worse off without having Dan around," he stated.