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Police: Ambush suspect was military re-enactor

September 17, 2014

The suspect in last week’s fatal ambush outside a rural Pennsylvania State Police barracks belonged to a “military simulation unit” whose members play the role of soldiers from eastern Europe, police said Wednesday.

Eric Frein, 31, “appears to have assumed that role in real life” as he seeks to avoid capture, Lt. Col. George Bivens 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 injuring the second.

Frein, named as the suspect after police searching an abandoned Jeep found his driver’s license and spent shell casings matching those found at the crime scene, shaved his head recently in a style resembling a Mohawk, Bivens said.

“Investigators believe that this change was made as part of the mental preparation to commit this cowardly act,” he said.

Authorities hunting for Frein 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.

Frein, of Canadensis, 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 being held Wednesday in Scranton, with his funeral scheduled for 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.

Bivens urged residents to remain “alert and vigilant” and report any suspicious activity they see to 911 or a tip line, and to 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.

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 for committing this cowardly act,” Bivens said.

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.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press writer Sean Carlin in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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