Former activist heading to county court on gun threat allegations

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

A Springettsbury Township woman and local activist will go before a judge on the county level while accused of waving a gun and threatening her neighbors — neighbors she alleged she was terrified of.

Jane Heller, 82, was arrested following a pair of incidents in her neighborhood on July 16. They started with Heller calling 911 to report a large fire in her neighbor’s yard, and firefighters responding to extinguish it.

Police were called back about an hour later on a report alleging Heller was waving a gun from her porch and making threats at people at her neighbor’s home.

“She said, ‘If you come near me, you’re gone,’” Diana Syndor-Martin testified Thursday.

Syndor-Martin was called as a witness during a preliminary district court hearing in the case.

Jane Heller

She recounted how she went with her boyfriend to the home owned by Greg and Bonnie Noll for a combination of yard work and a small family get-together. Her boyfriend, who’s related to the Nolls, was contracted to cut down a few trees on the property.

Greg Noll, a retired firefighter, told the Dispatch in July they burned the brush from the project in a pile in his yard. When York Area United Fire & Rescue firefighters arrived that day, he said his family helped put out the flames because the township prohibits such fires.

About an hour later, while Syndor-Martin said she was standing in the yard with another guest and two children, she testified that she saw Heller at her home waving an object.

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Syndor-Martin said she couldn’t make out the object at first, but as she walked closer to the edge of Noll’s yard, across from Heller’s property, she realized Heller had a gun.

“Swinging it around and pointing it,” Syndor-Martin said, clarifying the gun was pointed generally at the yard where the family was. “She was all over the place with it.”

From there, Syndor-Martin said the family all went into Noll’s home, where member of the group called 911.

Jane Heller of Springettsbury Township reads "Paintings of Indiana County" during the Governor's Residence Open House following Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's inauguration ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

Springettsbury Township Police Officer Derek Reitz responded to the neighborhood for the second time that day along with other officers. He testified that the officers detained Heller while he spoke to the neighbors.

Reitz then searched the house with a warrant and found a revolver inside by the door. He said it was loaded with six bullets.

During Thursday's hearing, Heller spoke during witness testimony, saying she had four bullets in the gun at the time.

According to police, Heller was taken to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation and later released. She was arrested a short time later and charged with misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment.

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Heller, a longtime preservationist and animal rights activist, told the Dispatch in July she feared her neighbors would attack her for calling 911 about the fire and wanted to show she’d defend herself if threatened.

Heller’s attorney, Taylor Bare, argued Thursday that the evidence wasn’t strong enough to support the charges. He said Heller stayed on her porch, and her statements were contingent on the people at the Noll home staying away from her.

Trial Deputy Prosecutor Simon Ryder said the evidence was backed by corroborating statements in the case — including Heller’s in-court comment about the four bullets — to support the charges.

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Judge William Reuter, who substituted for District Judge Barry Bloss, agreed the evidence met the burden for the case to proceed to trial, and he ordered it to advance to the Court of Common Pleas.

Reuter also denied Ryder’s request to require Heller to undergo a mental health evaluation as a condition of her bail. He noted she already had an evaluation before she was arrested and is currently on supervised release.

Heller is scheduled to be formally arraigned Nov. 14.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.