The old East Coast men, 80 and 81, met in the cemetery at nightfall.

One, a Rhode Island resident who’d served prison time for sexual assault and manslaughter, came there often to read his Bible, police said. The other, from Massachusetts, showed up Monday night, just as the two had arranged.

Authorities don’t know why the men decided to meet, or how the two knew each other, but by the end of the night, both were dead.

The mayhem that shocked the small communities of Tiverton, R.I., and Fall River, Mass., began just before 7 p.m., authorities said at a news conference, when people visiting the graves of loved ones at the tranquil Pocasset Hill Cemetery overheard a violent commotion.

Shots rang out.

John A. Cloud, 81, bled out in the cemetery while his suspected killer, Edward C. Acquisto, 80, hopped in a car and sped away. Acquisto led police on a brief chase north, across the Rhode Island-Massachusetts state line and into the town of Fall River, officials said. There, after being notified by Tiverton police that a killer was on the loose, Fall River police located Acquisto’s vehicle and chased him in patrol cars.

The pursuit spilled back into Rhode Island and the town of Tiverton, where more police from that jurisdiction joined in the chase. Acquisto led authorities past the cemetery and onto Ford Farm Road, a dead end.

It was there, police said, that Acquisto exited the car and exchanged gunfire with the officers. The man was shot, and died at the scene.

Witnesses and neighbors in the cemetery and Ford Farm Road area told the Providence Journal that they heard three gunshots inside the cemetery around 7 p.m., then not long after another six shots from the dead end street.

The loud pops sounded like fireworks, witnesses told the newspaper, or maybe even like they came from a roofing nail gun.

The two Fall River police officers and one Tiverton policer officer who shot at Acquisto have been placed on administrative leave, authorities said, until an investigation is complete. Tiverton and Fall River police, the Rhode Island State Police, the Rhode Island attorney general and the Bristol County, Mass., district attorney are all involved in the case.

Police said at a news conference that family confirmed the two men didn’t meet in the cemetery by chance. It was prearranged.

Acquisto had a violent criminal history, the Journal reported. He was given a life sentence in the 1979 rape of an ex-girlfriend, reported the newspaper, but was paroled in 2003. In 1978, Acquisto was accused of beating to death a bartender and pleaded no contest to manslaughter after initially being charged with murder. And in 1977, the man was charged with attempted murder after a different man was found unconscious in a pool of blood in Woonsocket, R.I., the Journal reported. Charges were dismissed for lack of a speedy trial, according to the newspaper. After being in a coma for 12 years, the victim died.

At the news conference Tuesday, Tiverton police chief Thomas Blakey said the cemetery murder and shootout was particularly disturbing for the small community and bayside neighborhood.

“It is shocking,” he said.