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  •   Suspect: Loner Suspicious of Government

    Update: the suspect in the shooting deaths of two Capitol Police officers has been given a 50-50 chance of survival.

    Russell E. Weston Jr. Russell Eugene Weston Jr.
    (Montana Department of Justice photo via AP)

    By Michael Powell and Anita Huslin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Saturday, July 25, 1998; Page A1

    The man suspected of killing two police officers inside the U.S. Capitol was a red-haired loner who last Thursday left his mother's house in an Illinois farm town with a pistol, a shotgun and red Chevrolet truck, heading to Washington.

    Russell Eugene "Rusty" Weston Jr., 41, who was in stable condition last night with bullet wounds in both legs and his stomach at D.C. General Hospital, was a strange sort who believed fervently that the government was using a satellite dish to spy on his shack in the backwoods of Montana, according to neighbors.

    "He would come walking by my house and say, 'The government is watching me, through your satellite dish,'" said Ken Moore, a 76-year-old retired carpenter. "I'd tell him, no, no, Rusty, no, they aren't watching you.

    "I tried to convince him but it made no difference," Moore said in a telephone interview from his home in Rimini a half mile away from Weston's shack. "He was kind of an oddball loner, paranoid right through. Sometimes he'd just go off the deep end."

    He had no friends, and sometimes panned for gold and tinkered with abandoned cars by his shack, Moore said.

    Weston, now a wiry man with droopy eyes who struggled with being overweight as a teenager, drifted for more than a decade between his family home along the Mississippi River in Valmeyer, Ill., and what neighbors describe as a virtual ghost town high in the Red Mountains of Montana. It sits along the Continental Divide about 20 miles south of Helena, where he stayed in a beat-up but electrified barn owned by his sister alongside Ten Mile Creek. Land records with the Lewis and Clark County property tax records place the value of the land at $1,265, with improvements worth about $300.

    Weston received Supplemental Security Income, federal aid for the disabled. He had suffered with a history of mental illness, according to a Miami Herald interview with the suspect's father.

    Weston twice drew the attention of the Secret Service in the spring of 1996, after police in Illinois reported he had made "threatening statements" about Clinton. He was reportedly examined by mental health professionals, who determined he was not a danger.

    He was not on the Secret Service "watch list" of dangerous and suspicious individuals. And there was no indication last night that he is affiliated with militias and other dangerous groups.

    Weston moved from one job to another in Montana, his father told the Miami Herald.

    In his hometown, an Illinois farming community of 900 people on a bluff high above the Mississippi River, 30 miles south of St. Louis, neighbors spoke of Weston as a loner, who kept to himself.

    "Rusty was not one of the more popular kids or anything like that," said Jeff Berry, a classmate of Weston's at Valmeyer High School in the 1970s. "Rusty was basically overweight and in small towns like that it's terrible, but kids like that tend to be outcasts."

    After they graduated, Berry lost track of Weston, only to see him again every few years.

    "He left for Montana with some friends, but he came back and he hung out in kind of the hippie crowd," Berry said. "I remember he used to wear a leather vest and looked like he hadn't taken a bath in a couple of years."

    Weston's neighbors in Montana, reached by telephone, described feeling nervous around him. They were more than eight miles from the nearest paved road, in a harsh land where people depend on those they can trust – and avoid those they don't.

    "One lady lives up near him with her two kids and she tried to stay away from him," Moore said. "Rusty could be a little scary if you didn't know him."

    And in 1986, Weston filed a curious lawsuit in District Court in Jefferson County, in Helena.

    He sued a much older woman, accusing her of "assault and battery" for hitting him on the head with a cane some three years before that. Weston alleged that he could not work for years afterward because of the injuries he suffered from that one blow, and that he was forced to move back to Illinois to live with his relatives, according to court papers.

    But he went beyond that, alleging a conspiracy in which the woman, Dorothy Cole, who has since died of natural causes, "developed a special relationship with the local sheriff by giving him ... at a drastically low price, a significant amount of mining equipment," according to papers on file with the Montana Supreme Court.

    The result, Weston insisted, was that the sheriff ignored his criminal complaint and denied him monetary relief through the crime victims compensation fund.

    Even today, that case elicits a chuckle from Cole's now-retired attorney, Chadwick Smith. "She was a little old lady who could just barely walk on her cane," Smith said last night. "There is no way she could have even lifted it over her head."

    The Montana Supreme Court dismissed his lawsuit without discussion.

    Weston has not been charged with anything yet. But Robert M. Blitzer, head of the FBI's domestic counterterrorism section, described the type of person that law enforcement officials most fear now, and his words had a resonance for yesterday's shooting.

    "These are usually rootless guys with a high level of frustration in their lives who go out on their own," he said in a recent interview. "They have access to firearms and explosives and are prepared to use them. For us, it is a real challenge to say ahead of them."

    Staff writer Gabriel Escobar contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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