After 7 weeks living off the land in a rugged state forest, a subdued fugitive, Eric Frein, made his first court appearance Friday in Milford, Pa., on a capital murder charge of killing a state trooper with a high-powered rifle.
For law enforcement in Pennsylvania, the capture of the 31-year-old self-taught survivalist Thursday night by U.S. Marshals was personal.He was placed in handcuffs belonging to the state trooper he is accusing of killing, Cpl. Byron Dickson, and placed in Dickson’s patrol car.
“Now he will face justice,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said.
Frein, wearing an orange jumpsuit and displaying a small cut over his left eyebrow, was taken to the courthouse in Milford in a caravan that included an armored vehicle and police in fatigues carrying weapons.
Handcuffed and subdued, the suspect was taken from a squad car and marched into the courthouse to the cheers of local residents.
The marshals found Frein hiding in the field near a hangar at a small abandoned airport in Tannersville without a gun on his person.
“He was definitely surprised,” said state police commissioner Frank Noonan.
He said Frein was unarmed and “gave up because he was caught and he had no choice but to give up.”
“When they approached it (the hangar), they saw an individual that they thought was Eric Frein, and they ordered him to surrender, to get down on his knees and raise his hands, which is what he did,” Noonan told reporters. “Once they approached him, he admitted his identity and he was taken into custody.”
Noonan said authorities had kept up the pressure to try to capture the fugitive in the woods for fear that if he got into populated areas he might try to kill other police officers or civilians.
“We weren’t going to stop until this fugitive was arrest,” he said. “And I’m glad it ended without any other loss of life, including his.”
Dickson’s family, as well as wounded Trooper Alex Douglass and his family, expressed “relief and gratitude” over Frein’s arrest, Noonan said.
The capture brought widespread relief in the Pocono Mountain communities near the search area, which was on edge during the lengthy manhunt.
Canceled Halloween festivities were back on the schedule Friday.
“We as a town think the kids have gone through enough,” said Ralph Megliola, chairman of the township board of supervisors.
Outside the local state police station where Frein was taken after he was caught, local residents waved American flags and signs thanking Pennsylvania State Police.
Frein was captured about 35 miles from where Dickson was shot and killed by a sharpshooter outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove on Sept. 12. The abandoned airport where he was found was the old Birchwood-Pocono Airpark, which was built in the early 1960s for a local resort and closed in 1998.
Pike county District Attorney Raymond Tonkin said he had filed an array of charges against Frein including first-degree murder, homicide of a law enforcement officer, attempted murder, possession of weapons of mass destruction and reckless endangerment. He said he would seek the death penalty in the case.
Noonan said Frein was in good condition and “looked healthier than I would have expected.”
A local resident, 15-year-old Daniel Margoli, tells the Times-Tribune of Scranton that he saw police bringing the shackled suspect out of the field.
“He looked really not healthy,” Margoli told the newspaper.”he was real dirty actually. His hair was just all greasy.”
Contacted by phone, Frein’s sister, Tiffany said of her brother’s capture, “I don’t really know how to handle it,” the Times-Tribune reports.
Frein is accused of using a high-powered rifle to kill Dickson, a 38-year-old father of two, and wound 31-year-old Trooper Alex Douglass during shift change outside the barracks. The exact motive for the shootings has not been announced, but Frein had voiced strong sentiments against government and law enforcement. Authorities have said they do not believe the troopers were specifically targeted.
Frein had only a minor criminal record — a decade-old misdemeanor case involving items stolen from a World War II re-enactors’ event in Upstate New York, for which he spent 109 days in jail.
He belonged to a war-simulation group modeled after Cold War-era Eastern European troops. That apparently led to a film credit: He played the “2nd German soldier” in the 2007 movie Lustig, which relates the tale of a concentration camp survivor.
Frein was a member of the Pocono Mountain High School rifle team. A police affidavit said Frein’s father, retired Maj. E. Michael Frein, served in the Army for 28 years. He told investigators that he had trained his son in marksmanship — and that his son “doesn’t miss.”
In the barracks shootings, the sniper, using a .308-caliber rifle, also fired at a civilian dispatcher as she tried to aid the victims, police said. The gunman fired four shots over about a minute and a half, video surveillance indicated.
The relentless search for the suspect began immediately afterward, with authorities finding two empty rifle cases, military gear, flashlights, a black hooded sweatshirt, camouflage face paint and information on foreign embassies in the woods near the barracks.
A week later, authorities said they found an AK-47-style weapon, ammunition and other items they believe belonged to Frein. Police also found a U.S. Army manual titled “Sniper Training and Employment” in the suspect’s bedroom at his parents’ house.
Over the 48 days before his capture, authorities thought they long-distance glimpses of the fugitive in the thousands of acres of woodland in the Ponocos near the New York and New Jersey borders. But authorities had to tread lightly because of Frein’s skills as a sharpshooter.
The first break in the case came a few days after the shooting when a neighbor walking his dog found a Jeep Cherokee partially submerged in a swampy area. The neighbor called 911 and authorities found Frein’s driver’s license, Social Security card, gaming permit and two spent .308 shell casings, according to a state police affidavit.
In the weeks that followed, other gear, pipe bombs and ammunition linked to Frein was found.
Contributing: Associated Press