BLOOMING GROVE, Pa. (AP) — Authorities hunting for a suspect in last week’s fatal ambush outside a rural state police barracks chased down several mistaken sightings Wednesday as schools closed down and the public remained on edge.
Law enforcement massed in a forested area to check out one of the latest tips, from workers who said they saw an armed person wearing camouflage, according to Trooper Tom Kelly, a state police spokesman. Police have been “getting sightings all over the place,” but none have panned out so far, he said.
Authorities were looking for 31-year-old Eric Frein, of Canadensis, who is charged with killing one trooper and wounding another outside the Blooming Grove barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania late Friday.
State police have warned the public that Frein is dangerous, calling him an anti-law enforcement survivalist who has talked about committing mass murder. Two school districts closed Wednesday because of safety concerns for students and staff.
After opening fire on troopers at the remote barracks in the Pocono Mountains Friday night, Frein evidently tried to make his escape in a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, authorities said. Instead, he drove into a swamp about 2 miles away, where a man walking his dog stumbled across the partly submerged SUV three days later and called 911.
Inside the abandoned Jeep, investigators found evidence they say ties Frein to the ambush that killed one trooper and critically wounded another: shell casings matching those found at the shooting scene; Frein’s driver’s license, Social Security card and Pennsylvania Game Commission range permit; camouflage face paint; two empty rifle cases and military gear.
It was the big break police were looking for, one that set off a massive manhunt by more than 200 law enforcement officials who fanned out across miles of thick woods, a place where Frein is believed to feel at home.
“We intend to keep him on the run until we catch him,” State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said at a news conference Tuesday in which he revealed the suspect’s name.
Calling him “extremely dangerous,” Noonan said Frein has a long-standing grudge against law enforcement.
“He has made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and also to commit mass acts of murder,” Noonan said. “What his reasons are, we don’t know. But he has very strong feelings about law enforcement and seems to be very angry with a lot of things that go on in our society.”
Frein was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, homicide of a law enforcement officer and other offenses.
Police found a U.S. Army manual called “Sniper Training and Employment” in the suspect’s bedroom at his parents’ house, according to a police affidavit released Tuesday. His father, a retired Army major, also told authorities that his son is an excellent marksman who “doesn’t miss,” according to the paperwork.
Frein has held anti-law enforcement views for many years and has expressed them both online and to people who knew him, Lt. Col. George Bivens said.
“As we’ve interviewed a number of people, that’s been the common theme: This was not a surprise,” Bivens said.
Frein’s father, Michael Frein, who spent 28 years in the Army, told police that two weapons were missing from the home – an AK-47 and a .308 rifle with a scope, according to the police affidavit.
Lars Prillaman, who manages a small farm in West Virginia, said he knew Frein very briefly from their time as military re-enactors. He told The Associated Press he was “saddened by what happened” and said Frein was “a different person eight years ago.”
Court documents filed Tuesday revealed new details about the ambush. According to the documents:
Cpl. Bryon Dickson was shot as soon as he walked out the front door of the barracks. A communications officer heard the shot, saw Dickson on the ground and asked him what had happened. Dickson told her he’d been hit and asked her to bring him inside — but the gunman had squeezed off another round, forcing his would-be rescuer inside.
Trooper Alex Douglass, meanwhile, had just arrived at the barracks and was shot in the pelvis as he walked toward Dickson. Douglass managed to crawl into the lobby, where another trooper brought him into a secure area of the barracks. Douglass later underwent surgery at a hospital.
Other troopers drove a patrol SUV into the parking lot and used it as a shield so they could drag Dickson into the barracks and begin attempts to save his life. He died at the scene. A coroner said he had been shot twice.
About 90 seconds elapsed between the first shot and the fourth and final one.
With the gunman still on the loose, residents near Frein’s house were jittery. Rich Turner, 52, who lives around the corner, said school buses avoided the neighborhood Tuesday, with parents directed to take their kids to school and to pick them up. Schools in the Pocono Mountain School District and Wallenpaupack Area School District were closed Wednesday.
“Everybody’s wondering if he’s still out there. Everyone’s on edge, to a degree,” said Turner.
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