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CANADENSIS, Pa. – Authorities have had no confirmed sightings of the alleged gunman who is accused of a deadly ambush at a police barracks 10 days ago, but they say they have found an assault rifle he was carrying and believe they are hot on his trail in the dense northeastern Pennsylvania woods.
Investigators said Sunday that the suspect they describe as a self-taught survivalist had been planning a confrontation with law enforcement for months, if not years, and they believe he is still armed and dangerous, and possibly concealing himself in self-built bunkers.
Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens revealed a few more details about the manhunt for Eric Frein, saying trackers have discovered items he hid or abandoned in the woods — including an AK-47-style assault rifle and ammunition they believe he had been carrying while on the run.
"We are pushing him hard, he is no longer safe and I am confident that he will be apprehended," Bivens said.
Authorities did not yet know if the weapon had been used in the ambush, he said. Still, police believe Frein, 31, remains dangerous, and possibly armed with a .308 rifle with a scope that police say was missing from his family home along with the AK-47.
Police, for now, do not believe Frein is targeting civilians, but acknowledged they cannot guarantee anyone's safety entirely.
Bivens said Frein had covered perhaps 15 or 20 miles on foot since the shooting. He asked residents to report any shelters or bunkers that Frein may have constructed and also asked hunters to review footage from trail cameras set up to track wildlife. Authorities do not believe he has contacted his family and have no information that he has been helped by anyone, Bivens said.
Frein was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list after the Sept. 12 ambush at a nearby police barracks that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson, 38, and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass.
The search is focusing on a several square-mile area on the border of Pike and Monroe counties around the village where Frein grew up, Bivens said.
"We know that Frein has prepared and planned extensively for months, and maybe years," Bivens said. "He planned his attack and his retreat."
Bivens said Frein initially had the advantage of knowing the rugged terrain around the area.
"Our tactical operations people now also know his backyard, the area he once felt safe in," Bivens said.
Heavily armed police and federal agents on Friday descended on the community where Frein had lived with his parents, ordering residents to stay inside their homes and preventing anyone outside the neighborhood from returning to their homes. Law enforcement officers wearing bulletproof vests and armed with rifles scoured the woods as helicopters buzzed overhead.
Police ordered the lockdown, believing that Frein was close and there was the possibility of a confrontation, Bivens said. Now, they are telling residents to go about their normal lives but remain vigilant, keep their doors locked and stay out of the dense, boggy woodlands where the search is underway.
He said police cannot guarantee the safety of area residents "100 percent," but that authorities remain convinced Frein's only target is law enforcement.
"I believe he's had every opportunity to harm others if he had chosen to do so," Bivens said.
Although Bivens declined to discuss what police believe was Frein's motive or mindset, he said they believe Frein is focused solely on attacking police, not civilians. Police are in contact with area schools that had closed Thursday and Friday because of the manhunt, and it is up to them when to reopen, Bivens said.
Some schools will reopen Monday while others have opted to remain closed.
Asked whether it was foolish for Frein's scheme to include returning to the area where he lived, Bivens replied, "I don't say that it was well-planned, I say that it's been planned."