MILFORD, Pennsylvania — After 48 days of living with helicopters, heavily armed police officers, the rumors and constant questions — where is he? — the people of northeast Pennsylvania can finally relax.
The manhunt for Eric Matthew Frein, accused of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper, is over. Heavily armed U.S. marshals captured Frein on Thursday night and turned him over to state police, who slapped the slain officer’s cuffs on him, put him in the back of the trooper’s squad car and sent him back to the barracks where the ambush occurred.
“We just thought it was fitting,” State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said.
Frein, 31, is charged with first-degree murder and other charges in a September 12 ambush outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove.
He’s accused of killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex T. Douglass before melting into the thick Pennsylvania woods.
Authorities had worried the survivalist and military buff with a reported history of cop hatred might go out in a violent standoff. In the end, he gave up without a fight.
His capture ended a lengthy search that burned through some $10 million, according to the county prosecutor, and likely as many nerves.
“It actually felt like I was in a war zone a couple of weeks ago, and it was hard to sleep for a few nights, worrying about where he is,” resident Mark Denny told WNEP-TV.
The squad of 13 U.S. marshals — armed like a military special operations squad — found Frein at an abandoned airport near Tannersville, Pennsylvania, authorities said.
Frein hadn’t been spotted. He was discovered as part of a “routine sweep through the woods,” State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens told reporters Friday.
And he wasn’t armed at the time of his capture, according to police, much to the relief of authorities who feared a violent showdown.
When marshals surprised him in a field near the airport, he obeyed their orders to get down on his hands and knees and told them who he was, Noonan said. There was no struggle, Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin said.
Investigators searching the area did find a cache that included a sniper rifle, Noonan said. The rifle appears to be consistent with casings gathered during the investigation, he said.
Frein was in good physical condition when he was captured, apart from a cut on his nose that he had before the marshals found him, according to Noonan.
He looked “healthier than I would have expected,” Noonan said.
Investigators think Frein was able to sustain himself by finding food and shelter in unoccupied cabins, Bivens said.
Officials said they were unsure how long he had been hiding at the airport.
During his court appearance Friday Frein looked thin, with the cut on his nose and abrasions on his forehead. His left cheek was swollen.
His voice was strong as he answered, “Yes I do,” to a Pike County judge’s question if he understood the charges against him, which include first-degree murder and criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer.
About 30 police were in the room for the 10-minute hearing.
Tonkin, the district attorney, said he plans to seek the death penalty.
Frein has been talking to authorities since his arrest, but Tonkin declined to say what, if anything, he has revealed about the attack that left Dickson dead and Douglass critically wounded.
Douglass has since been released and is continuing to recover, according to police.
Authorities have not discussed a motive but have said Frein has talked and written about hating law enforcement.
“I’ve characterized his actions in the past as pure evil, and I would stand by that,” Tonkin said Friday.
A review of his computer hard drive shows he had planned an attack for years, authorities said.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Frein searched the Internet going back to 2012 for information related on placing supply caches, police manhunt techniques and how to evade them and other topics.
“Eric Frein had a mission that was to attack law enforcement,” Noonan said. “If he got out of those woods, we were very concerned that he would then kill other law enforcement. And if not them, civilians. That’s why we had to keep the pressure on.”
There was no indication that anyone was helping Frein, who “quite well-prepared,” Noonan said.
Frein’s arrest punctured the thick tension that had blanketed the region for weeks.
“It’s been a long seven weeks,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said on CNN’s “New Day.”
During the search, some outdoor activities were curtailed and some schoolchildren didn’t go out for recess.
“It’s just exciting and we’re happy. We didn’t go out of school for weeks for recess,” resident Shannon Juirad told WNEP.
And then there was the question of Halloween.
At least one community, Barrett Township, canceled trick-or-treating as the search dragged on, instead suggesting children show up at a school parking lot to collect candy under the supervision of local and state police.
But with Frein in custody, the trick-or-treating will go on as normal, said Barrett Township Board Chairman Ralph Megliola.
“I’m ecstatic — and just in time for Halloween!” Megliola said.
Outside the police barracks, residents held a sign reading, “Way to Go PSP.” Passing motorists slowed, also offering words of encouragement for the Pennsylvania State Police.
“We all have children and we were afraid to go outside, we were afraid to do anything,” one woman told WBRE-TV.
“I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now, this is awesome. We are so proud of our Pennsylvania State Police, their hard work,” another said.
“Now it’s a celebration,” one woman wearing a “Barrett Proud” shirt told WNEP.