BLOOMING GROVE, Pa. — The survivalist charged in a deadly ambush at a state police barracks 10 days ago will be caught, Gov. Tom Corbett vowed Monday as a police official said authorities believe they are hot on his trail.
Corbett discussed the manhunt for Eric Frein at a news conference in Blooming Grove, near the barracks where Frein is charged with killing one trooper and seriously wounding another 10 days ago.
“I feel confident that we should be able to apprehend this individual. I am very positive about that,” he said.
The governor thanked the hundreds of law enforcement officials who are methodically searching the rural, rugged northeastern Pennsylvania terrain.
“They are putting their life on the line for someone who has the intended purpose of killing police officers,” Corbett said.
Investigators have described the suspect as a self-taught survivalist who hates law enforcement. They say he had been planning a confrontation for months, if not years, and believe he is possibly concealing himself in self-built bunkers.
The search area is narrowing, and state police are following up on “very credible tips,” state police Lt. Col. George Bivens said Monday.
“I do believe that we are close to him at this point,” Bivens said.
On Sunday, Bivens revealed a few more details about the manhunt, saying trackers have discovered items Frein hid or abandoned in the woods — including an AK-47-style assault rifle and ammunition they believe he had been carrying.
Authorities did not yet know if the weapon had been used in the ambush, he said. Still, police believe Frein, 31, remains dangerous, and possibly armed with a .308 rifle with a scope that police say was missing from his family home along with the AK-47.
Police, for now, do not believe Frein is targeting civilians, but acknowledged they cannot guarantee anyone’s safety entirely.
Bivens said Sunday that Frein had covered perhaps 15 to 20 miles on foot since the shooting. He asked residents to report any shelters or bunkers that Frein may have constructed and also asked hunters to review footage from trail cameras set up to track wildlife. Authorities do not believe he has contacted his family and have no information that he has been helped by anyone, Bivens said.
Frein was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list after the ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson, 38, and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass.
The search is focusing on a several square-mile area around Canadensis, the village where Frein grew up, Bivens said.
“We know that Frein has prepared and planned extensively for months, and maybe years,” Bivens said. “He planned his attack and his retreat.”
Bivens said Frein initially had the advantage of knowing the rugged terrain around the area.
“Our tactical operations people now also know his backyard, the area he once felt safe in,” Bivens said.
On Friday, a week after the slaying, heavily armed police and federal agents ordered residents to stay inside and prevented anyone outside the neighborhood from returning to their homes. Law enforcement officers wearing bulletproof vests and armed with rifles scoured the woods as helicopters buzzed overhead.
Police ordered the lockdown, believing that Frein was close and there was the possibility of a confrontation, Bivens said. Now, they are telling residents to go about their normal lives but remain vigilant, keep their doors locked and stay out of the dense, boggy woodlands where the search is underway.
Although Bivens declined to discuss what police believe was Frein’s motive or mindset, he said they believe Frein is focused solely on attacking police, not civilians. Some schools that had closed Thursday and Friday reopened Monday, while others opted to remain closed.
Asked whether it was foolish for Frein’s scheme to include returning to the area where he lived, Bivens replied, “I don’t say that it was well-planned, I say that it’s been planned.”