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Sep 17, 2014 7:33 PM

Police: Ambush suspect was military re-enactor

The Associated Press

Schools closed, kids stayed inside and authorities chased down several false sightings Wednesday in their hunt for the suspect in a fatal ambush outside a rural Pennsylvania State Police barracks.

Police released new details about the background of Eric Frein, a 31-year-old self-taught survivalist who authorities said recently shaved his head in a wide Mohawk, evidently as "part of the mental preparation to commit this cowardly act," Lt. Col. George Bivens said Wednesday afternoon.

Frein belonged to a military simulation unit based in eastern Pennsylvania whose members play the role of soldiers from Cold War-era eastern Europe, Bivens told reporters.

"In his current frame of mind, Frein appears to have assumed that role in real life," he said.

Hundreds of law enforcement officials spent a fifth full day Wednesday looking for the gunman who concealed himself outside the Blooming Grove barracks late Friday and shot two troopers with a rifle, killing one and wounding the second. Police named Frein the suspect after finding his abandoned SUV, which contained his driver's license and spent shell casings matching those at the crime scene.

Authorities have followed up on hundreds of tips, massing in a forested area at one point Wednesday after workers reported seeing an armed person wearing camouflage nearby. Police have been "getting sightings all over the place," but none have panned out so far, said Trooper Tom Kelly.

Frein, of Canadensis, Pennsylvania, is charged with killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson, a 38-year-old married father of two, and critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass. Dickson's viewing was held Wednesday in the rotunda of Marywood University in Scranton, with Pennsylvania's attorney general among thousands of mourners paying respects. Gov. Tom Corbett plans to attend Dickson's funeral on Thursday.

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.

"Parents are so frightened for their children," said Pocono Mountain School Board member Annabella Lastowski. "People are wondering if the suspect is in the area or has fled the area. That is the unknown and that is what's bothering people the most."

She said her neighbors were keeping their school-age children inside.

Bivens said residents should remain "alert and vigilant," report suspicious activity, lock doors and keep house exteriors well lit. But he said he is "convinced Frein is engaged in a personal battle with law enforcement, particularly the Pennsylvania State Police, and will likely stay focused on that fight."

Frein has nursed an unspecified grudge against law enforcement and government in general at least since 2006, Bivens said.

In 2004, he was charged with burglary and grand larceny after police accused him of stealing items from vendors at a World War II re-enactment in Odessa, New York. He failed to show for his trial, and was arrested in Pennsylvania as a fugitive from justice, said Lt. Craig Gallow of the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department in New York.

Frein evidently tried to make his escape Friday night in a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, authorities said. Three days later, a man walking his dog stumbled across the partly submerged SUV in a swamp about 2 miles away and called 911.

As he has on previous days, Bivens used a news conference Wednesday to address the suspect directly: "In the event you are listening to this broadcast on a portable radio while cowering in some cold, damp hiding place, I want you to know one thing. Eric, we are coming for you. It is only a matter of time until we bring you to justice."


Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.


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