The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pennsylvania manhunt ends quietly after seven weeks of tension

The search for Eric Frein began on a Friday night nearly two months ago with shots fired in the dark. It ended quietly on Thursday night, following a manhunt that had lasted for 48 days and left Pennsylvania residents on edge, with authorities surrounding their suspect as he knelt and surrendered. In between, the search saw hundreds of police officers sweeping a densely wooded area of the Pocono Mountains, shuttered schools in the area, forced residents to stay at home for long stretches and generally seeped into daily life for the residents living amid the turmoil.

Frein has been charged with opening fire outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, a small township in northeastern Pennsylvania, on Sept. 12. Two state troopers — one leaving the barracks, the other entering it — were shot in what authorities described at the time as an ambush. Cpl. Bryon Dickson, who was leaving the barracks, was killed, while Alex Douglass was seriously injured. Police were able to identify Frein after a Jeep was found in a pond near the barracks three days later. Inside the car, police said they found shell casings matching those found near the barracks along with Frein’s driver’s license and Social Security card. Not long after, the FBI added Frein to their list of the 10 most wanted fugitives.

Adding to the tension faced by officers during the search was the nature of the region as well as the person they were hunting. Police had said that Frein was “armed and extremely dangerous” man who had said he wanted to kill police officers and other people. Frank Noonan, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, also described Frein as a highly-trained survivalist. And he had fled into the woods of the Poconos, a rugged and rocky terrain that offered plenty of places for someone to hide. All of which meant police were seeking someone who they believed specifically wanted to kill other police officers and they were looking in an area that was not easy to search.

Still, for residents in the region, the hunt had an impact on a regular basis. Several schools in the region were closed early in the search, due to concerns for students waiting at bus stops, and some schools had also been closed again recently after possible sightings of Frein. Trick or treating had been canceled for Halloween. People living in the area had been told to shelter in place multiple times, while a partial hunting ban was put into place, as the manhunt dragged on and became a part of daily life for people who grew used to hearing helicopters overhead and navigating roadblocks.

The manhunt was dotted with potential sightings, and police say they will figure out which were accurate now that they have Frein in custody. It was also a long process for those combing the woods. When Frein was captured Thursday, he was placed in Dickson’s handcuffs, Gov. Tom Corbett said. He was brought to the same Blooming Grove barracks where police said he had opened fire.

“If you attack troopers, and a civilized society, the Pennsylvania State Police will bring you to justice,” Pennsylvania State Troopers Association President Joseph R. Kovel said in a statement. “Eric Frein is a coward. Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II and Trooper Alex T. Douglass are true heroes.”

Raymond Tonkin, the Pike County district attorney, said Friday morning that the investigation is still ongoing.

“We have now started to find the answers that the community desired in this case,” he said during a news conference.

Lt. Col George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said during the same news conference that the officers hunting for Frein “never lost faith.” He said that Frein was not found due to a tip or because he had sought out police, but during one of the routine sweeps law enforcement officials were conducting.

Authorities have said they will seek the death penalty for Frein, who has been charged with murder, assault and other offenses. Pennsylvania has not executed anyone since 1999.

After the news conference ended outside the Pike County Courthouse, where Frein was being arraigned, people who had gathered to listen broke into a small smattering of applause for Bivens and the other authorities who had sought to reassure the public.