SWIFTWATER, Pa. (AP) — With two possible sightings in four days, a man charged in the deadly ambush of a state police barracks appears to have moved out of the deep woods and into a more heavily trafficked area of the Pocono Mountains.
The sightings led to another round of school closures and a feeling among some residents that law enforcement is spinning its wheels more than five weeks into the massive manhunt.
Officials in the Pocono Mountain School District canceled classes shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday, reversing course after saying the night before that schools would stay open. Wendy Frable, a district spokeswoman, said officials changed their minds because law enforcement wasn’t searching on campus Monday night but had an extensive search presence there Tuesday morning.
“Our parents and staff are understandably concerned when they hear reports of possible sightings anywhere near schools,” Superintendent Elizabeth Robison said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities are looking for Eric Frein, 31, who’s charged with opening fire outside the Blooming Grove state police barracks on Sept. 12, killing a trooper and seriously wounding another. The suspect has been described as a self-taught survivalist and expert marksman who hates law enforcement.
Police had spent weeks searching for Frein in the woods around his parents’ home in Canadensis, but shifted their primary search area about 5 miles to the southwest after a woman out for a walk Friday night reported seeing a rifle-toting man with a mud-covered face near Pocono Mountain East High School. Police said they believe the man was Frein.
On Monday afternoon, an officer with Pocono Mountain Regional Police spotted a man dressed in green in the woods near the Swiftwater post office, less than a half-mile from the school. That prompted an intense police search as students were heading home for the day — a potentially volatile situation that had some parents fuming.
With classes canceled Tuesday, state police and the FBI searched the school district’s Swiftwater campus, clearing and securing the elementary, junior and high schools.
“Having law enforcement take the time to go through our schools to make sure they are secure is very reassuring to me and should also be reassuring to the parents of our students,” Robison said.
With Frein still on the loose, though, some residents aren’t sure police are up to the task.
Hubert Harvey, 70, said he’s surprised Frein hasn’t been caught by now and believes authorities are “just wasting money and time” by sending legions of officers into the woods day after day.
“They’re going about it the wrong way,” he said. “What they need is a couple of good guys who can track and a couple dogs and they will find him.”
James Fish, 72, of Swiftwater, is skeptical that Frein had even been spotted in the area.
“Obviously he’s a skilled survivor,” he said. “He’s going to walk out so some lady can see him? That’s ridiculous.”
Nevertheless, Fish said his wife was worried and upset. He reminded her that Frein is believed to be targeting law enforcement and “average citizens aren’t too much at risk.”
The manhunt is now concentrated along the heavily trafficked Route 611 corridor in the heart of the Poconos. Major attractions and businesses in the vicinity include Mount Airy Casino Resort and pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, where Frein worked briefly.
On Tuesday, police with dogs were seen searching a clothing collection bin across the street from a popular restaurant.
Up the road, 15-year-old Kat Nordstrom and her friend Sam Ryan, 16, were at Dunkin’ Donuts at a time when they’d normally be in class.
Frein was the talk of the high school Monday, with some students joking about the situation “because they think nothing is going to happen,” Nordstrom said. But one of her teachers told her that “they shouldn’t have let you come,” she said.
Jeff Ingrassia, 48, and his wife felt the same way, keeping their two elementary-age children out of school Monday. Ingrassia said canceling school Tuesday was the right call, given the possibility Frein might be nearby.
“I’m a little scared that he’s around here,” said his daughter, 9-year-old Katelyn.