Friday, October 31, 2014

The End of the Eric Frein Manhunt


     And just like that, it was over. I was at my piano, giving a voice lesson to a student when I received a text message of a news alert from the local newspaper, the Pocono Record. When I signed up for this service I hoped each time I received such a message it would give me the news that Eric Frein, accused of murdering of one Pennsylvania State Trooper and severely wounding another on September 12, had been apprehended. And until around six-forty last night, none of these alerts told me that.
     But the text I received last night was “State Police confirm Eric Frein in custody.” What began seven weeks ago tonight with the ambush at the Blooming Grove State Police Barracks in neighboring Pike County had come to an end.
     This morning the headlines in the Record read “GOT HIM!” in at least 124 point type. That was the message we’d all been waiting to hear for a long time. A friend who has been living in the “hot zone” all these weeks had this status on her Facebook timeline today: “So thankful for a feeling of peace this morning as I fed the horses and let the dogs run! Thank you everyone involved in the capture! Was a fall I'll never forget!
     There still hasn’t been a great deal of information released, but we were told Frein was caught outside of an airplane hangar on the old, abandoned Birchwood Resort grounds by a team of U.S. Marshals agents. Checking the “chatter” on Facebook, there was of course some confusion about details … even regarding the airport, which is in Pocono Township and not Barrett or Price Townships where the primary activity had taken place for much of the search.
     The LEOs have been doing searches throughout all of these Townships. The woods are vast, something I’m sure people who don’t know the area may not fully understand. The many law enforcement officers on the scene, to the best of my understanding, had divided the area into grids and did routine sweeps through those areas in teams. Last night, just before dark, one sweep finally paid off.
     From what I understand at this point, Frein was unarmed at the time he was apprehended and surrendered to the law enforcement officers who caught him. We are told there were weapons and ammunition found in the hangar along with other items. The investigation into Frein’s alleged crime is ongoing, however, and few details have yet been released. Frein is being charged with myriad crimes, including first degree premeditated murder, and homicide of a law enforcement officer. Unless there is a change of venue – certainly a possibility – he will be tried in Pike County in the charming little town of Milford. All that remains to be seen.
     I’m sure it’s too early to write a retrospective on these events, but some thoughts on this nearly seven week search I need to share. Most of the local people, especially those directly impacted by the search whose lives were disrupted in many ways, have been staunch supporters of the efforts of law enforcement. Many of us were not directly in the “hot zone” but had friends and family who were, and our concerns were for them. It’s hard to understand if you weren’t living here, but there was strong empathy for what they were experiencing.
     There are those who feel if it had been a civilian who had been murdered this kind of effort would not have ensued. And that might be true. However, have not most of us been dismayed by the senseless killings recently of both military personnel and law enforcement officers that have happened at different locations around this country, and even in Canada? Do we ignore these events and invite anarchy? I think not.
     Yes, I’m sure there are “bad cops” who go undetected and unpunished. I choose to believe the majority of LEOs make every effort to fulfill their sworn responsibilities and do their best to keep us safe. They go on duty usually six times a week with a handgun and perhaps a Kevlar vest as their only protection to face who knows what. Most of the time they return safely to their families. But sometimes there are officers who do not. Corporal Bryon Dickson did not on September 12.
     I’ve heard comments to the effect Frein was probably long gone and the efforts of the agents on scene were futile and a waste of time and money. That I don’t even need to address, given the resolution. He never left these woods, and it’s quite possible those in charge of the manhunt were privy to information which was a confirmation of that fact and was never shared with the public for obvious reasons.
     It was our understanding from the beginning that Frein was “probably” not a danger to civilians. However, how can we know that for sure? If Frein had not been pressured by the relentless pursuit of the LEOs, who knows what he might have done? It’s impossible to understand him at all. I’m sure the FBI had profilers working on this case. It would be fascinating to be able to read their findings.
     Frein’s mind doesn’t work the way mine does, of that I can be sure. Who knows what he might have been thinking? When I heard from my daughter-in-law who was home with three children under the age of four that officers were searching her property with a helicopter hovering overhead, I’m sure her sense of safety was much greater because of that than someone saying to her, “Don’t worry, he’s not a danger to you or your kids.” (Actually, Birchwood Resort is fairly close to where my son and his family live.)
     Most of the people in the “hot zone” were glad the LEOs were there, whether they might have been targets or not. They are undoubtedly more relieved than any of us that this has come to an end. Frein eluded capture for longer than we’d have liked, but it could have continued. He may have grown tired of constantly having to be on the lookout. Those U.S. Marshals may have caught a lucky break; it seems they came across him when he had made a mistake by leaving his hideout without a weapon.
     I won’t use Frein’s image in this post. Many of us who live here want to try to honor the fallen Pennsylvania State Trooper and make his the name that people remember from this incident. And it’s Corporal Dickson’s photo that I include as a tribute to the law enforcement officers who work diligently and risk their lives daily to “serve and protect.”


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Hunt for Eric Frein ... Still On

The New Normal Is Beginning to Get Old

     We’re approaching October 31 which will mean Eric Frein allegedly ambushed two Pennsylvania State Troopers six weeks ago, killing one and severely wounding the other. If he is not apprehended in the next forty-eight hours, the law enforcement agencies who continue to search for him will enter their seventh week.
     There are fewer leaves on the trees. We’ve had some cold snaps and some rainy days and nights. This coming Saturday there is a chance of snow showers and considerably reduced temperatures. There are also fewer LEOs searching the woods, which may not be a bad thing. Frein grew up in our corner of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and knows the rocky terrain and thick woods well.
     This is strictly conjecture, but I wonder if having so many law enforcement officers from a number of different agencies means they must gather and plan … which gives him plenty of time to slip away. State police, FBI, ATF, canine units from at least two states and I heard from one source Homeland Security is here as well. 
     We haven’t had a briefing from the PSP for well over a week. The days seem to pass in much the same way. Each morning everyone hopes and prays that today Frein will be caught and our community can go back to the old normal. Each night as the sun sets there is a sense that nothing will be accomplished overnight, though of course we can’t know that.
     Barrett Township, which has been the “hot zone,” cancelled their annual Halloween Parade. That was sad for families and children; it’s very much a delightful small town event that everyone in that area looks forward to. It was heartwarming to read of the efforts of some members of the community who replaced it with a pretty nifty substitute, a “Trunk or Treat” in the parking lot of Monsignor McHugh School where families could gather, children could admire each other’s costumes and treats were plentiful.
     Last Saturday night I went with friends to the Evergreen Community School in Cresco to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant but gory musical play, Sweeney Todd, performed by a local group, Theatrical Gems. We were headed for “the hot spot” and it was the first time I’d been in that part of the county since all this started, and it did feel a little strange. We saw no law enforcement vehicles either driving up to the school or coming back to the southern part of the county. But where we were driving was in everyone’s mind, and a comment about “Frein country” was made. We want him gone. He’s in  everyone’s mind.
     It seems there are fewer helicopters in evidence, but we have a new piece of technology, a weather balloon lent by the state of Ohio which can be used the same way, tracking from above with a camera that apparently can show much detail of the terrain below. Of course, it can’t be deployed in high winds.
     We are told the PSP and the governor remain resolute and we are still told the search will continue until Frein is apprehended. Yesterday there was a “sighting” of a person in the woods who might have been Frein. The frustration with the sightings is that no one has really been close enough to any of these people … or to Frein, if it is him … to make a positive identification. As frustrated as the residents are, the law enforcement personnel have to be many times moreso. They want him gone as much as we do. They want to find him and capture him.
     Speculation abounds. Some Facebook pages are filled with posts about different theories. I avoid reading those; it is, after all, sheer speculation. The fact that the LEOs are still here indicates to me it is strongly believed by those in authority that Frein has not left the area. Since it's most likely that is the case, it’s good they are here. Most residents feel much safer with them on hand. Support for the LEOs continues to be strong.
     I write books about people whose lives are filled with love and music, and who deal with challenges with great courage. Eric Frein remains an enigma to me, and I believe to most people. Nothing he has done makes any sense to most people who live here. It’s hard also to imagine what effect this has had and continues to have on people who love him. I hope he is caught and interrogated. We’d like to hear from him. We’d like to be able to get him out of our heads.
     I hope he surrenders, but I doubt that is likely. There are several endgame scenarios and most of them are grim.

Pocono Raceway Photo

Monday, October 27, 2014

Excerpt from "Eli's Heart"

A Musical Book Signing for Eli

     My book Eli’s Heart is in the forefront of my mind these days as I prepare to host a book signing at the Pocono Community Theater, a local movie house which is very “local author friendly.” The PCT is kind enough to allow me to use a very nice space for a musical presentation along with some brief readings from the book, and books will be available for purchase as well. Nice friends who are splendidly talented are performing some pieces which are an important part of the story. The event is scheduled for November 9, only about two weeks away.
     Eli Levin, my protagonist, is an unlikely hero but he is definitely a hero. Born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect, Eli is also a piano prodigy (though he hates the word and his close friends are careful not to use it). His entire life he struggles to live with both of these challenges, and he does this with humor and grace, though at times the stress overwhelms him. When he marries, his young wife is challenged to try to understand Eli and support him however she can through the difficult times, and rejoice with him during the good times.
     Music is a vital part of their life together, and one challenge for me was to describe the music that is particularly meaningful for them. Krissy and Eli meet as young teens and after some years apart, they are reunited when they are both college students. They reconnect first through letters and long-distance phone calls (it’s the nineteen fifties; no computers or cell phones), and finally see each other again at Christmas, just before her nineteenth birthday.
     They decide to marry, but they agree to wait a year. During the few days they spend together, Eli plays for Krissy; some is music she had heard him play years earlier, some pieces she is familiar with but hasn’t heard him play. One piece in particular she loves hearing as much as he loves playing is the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor. Just before she leaves for the airport – she has to leave to return to her college before he goes back to his – she asks him to play it for her once more.
      I wanted to give them a “moment” before they part again. The time they spend together is either in Krissy’s home or in the home of Eli’s sister, who lives in the town in which Krissy had grown up. So while they are very much in love and are convinced they belong together, they haven’t yet made love. But it was important for them to have some affirmation of the strength of the bond they share.
     Rachmaninoff is probably my favorite composer, and I love the Prelude in G Minor as much as Krissy and Eli do. So when Eli is playing, Krissy is close to him, and they share an experience that makes the moment unforgettable for both of them.

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor began with repeated thick chords and heavy octave passages with large leaps up and down the keyboard, played rapidly. Eli pushed the tempo slightly; he loved doing that, especially with Rachmaninoff. The prelude had a grandeur and sweep to it, and demanded technical facility and strength. As with much of his music, Rachmaninoff slowed the tempo and introduced a beautiful melody, and the music became completely different, almost ethereal.
     As soon as Eli started the lyrical section something happened. He could feel his hands on the keys, he knew Krissy was touching him, but he felt he became a conduit for the music. It flowed through him and around him, opening up time and space. He continued to have a sense of transcendence through most of the section, and then the music gradually returned to the original idea, the sense of being somewhere else left him, and he was again sitting at Krissy’s piano playing Rachmaninoff for her.
     When he finished the piece he sat quietly for a moment. When he turned to look at Krissy, he could tell by the look of wonder on her face that she had made the journey with him. He asked softly, “Did you feel that?” Not wanting to speak, she nodded. They sat close together without feeling any need to talk, knowing what they had just experienced was remarkable.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I Teach Music

Teaching Never Ends

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

     I hadn’t heard this quote until sometime during the past year, when I read it in something a former voice student had written. And I hadn’t really thought about teaching in those terms until I read this quote. But this particular student of mine had also become a teacher of music, as have quite a few others … some in a classroom, some with a private studio such as mine.
     Recently I contacted a former student who is now singing with the Metropolitan Opera chorus and asked him how many years he’s been at the Met. His response surprised and delighted me: this year marks the start of his sixteenth year. I vividly recall his lessons with me; I was working with him late in his high school years, helping him prepare to study vocal performance and music education. 
     He did so well with his undergraduate studies he went on to graduate school as a vocal performance major in my alma mater, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I will never forget the teachers at that school, and the way music unfolded for me under their guidance.
     I opened my voice studio thirty-five years ago and I have since met several hundred people who wanted to learn how to use their voices better and learn more about music. I think I helped nearly all of them, at least to a point. Some have stayed in touch with me, which is very gratifying. Some I see fairly often because they continue to live nearby; some I see occasionally. Some I have reconnected with thanks to Facebook.
     This weekend I saw three former students perform, two in an excellent community theater production of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant near-opera, SWEENEY TODD. One has been out of college for I’m sure over ten years, the other is a fairly recent high school graduate. Both of them seemed so polished, so assured on stage, and presented fine performances. I was very proud of them. They both have wonderful voices and sang particularly well. I’m happy I had a chance to spend time with them when they were high school students, and I could give them some guidance about singing and introduce them to music I love.
     That was Saturday night; then Sunday afternoon I saw another former student in a very different setting. This young man graduated seven years ago from high school, completed college and worked for two years in New York City as a paralegal. Then he made a one hundred eighty degree turn, leaving the city, leaving the law profession, and hitting the road to see the country and to write music – music for voice and guitar. 
     I saw him in a local venue and heard some of the songs he’d dreamed and created and has recorded. It was equally exciting for me to hear what he is doing. His tenor voice works well in the music he’s written and performs. He sounds assured and joyful, and he lets his voice soar. I am very proud of him and grateful to have been in his life.

     The books I write are about the power of creativity, music in particular, in people’s lives, and how it helps my characters deal with extremely difficult situations. But music helps us deal with all situations, really, and gives us joy as nothing else can. I like to feel I’ve helped my students come to at least a sense of that joy. If I’ve done that, I’ve been a good teacher.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Random Thoughts

     Here in northeastern PA, in the area where accused assassin Eric Frein is believed to be hiding, yesterday was a cold, dreary, rainy, windy day … more like November than October. Today was the complete opposite, sunny, breezy, pleasant … more like May than October. But that’s typical of our local weather. We have these wide swings in the fall. There’s not much news about the search for Frein; there was a flurry of activity Monday afternoon, but on this Friday afternoon we are hearing very little.
     Watching the evening news was so depressing I decided to indulge in nostalgia, revisiting the era in which my books are set, and relive some of that gentler time. I made a remark in one blog some weeks ago about the fifties being a “kinder, gentler time” and one reader disagreed, pointing out the horrors of World War II (which of course ended prior to the fifties), in particular the holocaust, and the oppressive segregation in the United States. 
     Yes, those things were true. However … we didn’t see news of a school shooting and think of it as an oh, no, not again event … to the best of my memory, there weren’t any in the fifties. We didn’t see ongoing attacks on law enforcement officers. It seems these days that is beginning to happen far too frequently. Not just here, but in Canada as well. What in the world is going on?
     We didn’t have to worry about Ebola invading our shores, but we had concerns. Infantile paralysis was the scourge of that era, and I remember our huge municipal swimming pool being closed for an extended period at least one summer because of the fear of an outbreak of polio.  
     The fifties weren’t perfect, but looking back to my teen years, life seemed to be a lot less complicated than it is today. My family lived comfortably but we were hardly wealthy. We had one car and one television set, and one telephone with an extension. When I was in high school we had a private line; until then we’d been on a party line. Different rings for different people on the line, and you had to check carefully before making a call in case someone else was using the phone line. We had a manual typewriter, which some people did not. Computers, both desktop and laptop, were being dreamed of somewhere, but most of us had no inkling of the wonders to come.
     We sometimes called friends and relatives who lived at a distance. Long distance telephone calls were expensive, so we didn’t make those calls too often. We wrote letters. We sent cards and postcards, and receiving mail was something we looked forward to. Many young people had pen pals, sometimes even in another country. Instant communication was another “pie in the sky by and by” item. “Handwriting” was something we learned in school. I think it’s called “cursive” these days, and I don’t know that anyone under thirty knows what a “typewriter” is. And “typing” is referred to as “keyboarding” these days.
     As teenagers, we went roller skating at the local roller rink and went to dances at the local teen “hang-out” probably once a week. There were after school clubs for nearly everything from chess to theater. There were drugstores with soda fountains where we spent a little time after school when we didn’t have a club meeting. Cherry Coke was my favorite. Juke boxes played constantly when the kids were there for sodas and sometimes a bite to eat.
     And movies! It was the golden age of Hollywood. We went at least once a week, sometimes more. And you could pay one admission and stay and watch the film a second time. Movie stars were America’s royalty. They were elevated above us mere mortals and lived in Nirvana, only they called it Beverly Hills.
     Music was an important part of my life, and I was fortunate enough to attend a high school with a strong music program. Band, orchestra, chorus, and a spring musical were part of my life. Piano, voice, and dance lessons were something I enjoyed, and I know now that my parents probably made some sacrifices so I could have the benefit of those lessons.
     There was culture in my town. We had our own symphony orchestra and our own community theater. But the biggest community events were the high school’s football games in the fall and basketball games in the winter. It was small town America at its best. It was life in the fifties.
     The fifties weren’t perfect. There were some things that were swept under the rug. Domestic violence was nearly always covered up; the story of HOW I GREW UP is based on a true incident in my town when it exploded in one family. Racial inequality was largely ignored. The Korean War came and went but we were children during that time and hardly noticed it.
     The sixties were fast approaching, a decade of change was about to descend on us. The post-World War era was coming to an end; Vietnam lay directly ahead.
     But there was this bubble for a few years. For the most part, it was nice.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Read This Book ...

Inspiration, Unexpected   

     It is often said that writing is a solitary endeavor. It is every bit of that and more. It’s withdrawing from the real world, taking yourself into the world you’ve created for your characters and seeing what they are up to and hearing what they are talking about. I write through a first draft ─ changing, deleting, adding as I do. I may write ten chapters and go back to chapter one and rethink it. Eventually, I complete the book, and then the hard part begins. Re-reading, re-writing, tweaking, re-thinking, staring glumly into space and asking myself whatever gave me the notion I could do this.
     Shipping the thing off to kind friends who read what I’ve done (these days “shipping off” means sending an e-mail or uploading to DropBox), and then write back encouragingly. They love it, they love the characters, they love the story. You might think about doing (fill in the blanks). And with much gratitude you accept the suggestions and consider them carefully. My readers are the best; they remind me it’s my book, and they are one reader. Not every reader loves every single thing about any book. But I trust them, and they are knowledgeable readers, and generally what they have to say makes great sense and makes my books stronger.
     Still, as I rewrite, reconsider, retweak, rethink, I wonder if what I’ve put together makes any sense at all or is it too fanciful, too romanticized, too much of a stretch. Is it too long? Too short? (Actually, I think I’ve figured that one out. The book is whatever length it’s supposed to be.) Will anyone read it and actually like it? More, will anyone even read it?
     And then. I take a break from agonizing over my book and look to read the work of another author. Maybe a book I’ve read and loved and admired. Or maybe a brand new book, by an author I never heard of: A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott Southard.
     Now, since I am self-publishing my books, I make a modest attempt to market them. Being in my “golden” years (what a misnomer that is) I have no illusions about becoming a best-seller, but since I write, I appreciate when someone reads my writing. All writers do.
     So I set up a Twitter account because I kept reading on the many “how-to” sites/blogs/etc. about marketing that it was a good idea. I still don’t quite “get” Twitter, but I do post several tweets a day; and I’ve learned to post tweets about my blog (oh, yes, I started a blog, too, having read that was also a good idea) … and it seems people go to my blog from time and time because of a tweet they’ve read. I have a modest number of followers on Twitter, and when Scott Southard “followed” me I looked him up. And loved what I read about him … his great sense of humor and his remarkable talent are all over his website. You get who he is immediately when you learn he has a dog named Bronte and writes a blog entitled “The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.”
     His book, A Jane Austen Daydream, looked intriguing, so I ordered the e-book and lost myself for many hours in the wonderful world he created. What I read was the most charming mixture of fact and fantasy I believe I’ve ever read and was utterly delightful. More than that, he gave voice to Jane Austen’s deep emotional feelings about writing, and reduced me to tears and inspired me at the same time. When I read this:

Writing is such a personal experience for a writer; the growth and struggle are internal, so when one’s work is acknowledged, it is a vindication of not only mind but also of soul. It says something about one that nothing else can.*

… my eyes filled with tears, and for the final three chapters of the book I kept blinking those tears away. I knew exactly how Jane must have felt.
     And after finishing Scott’s wonderful book, which I will re-read and re-re-read, I went back to my current project feeling much better about what I was doing. After a lifetime of being a musician, a teacher, and a reader, I have become a writer, and it gratifies me as nothing ever has; not all the musical theater productions I’ve directed, not all the songs I’ve sung, not all the wonderful students I’ve been privileged to help unlock their singing voices. All of that has given me experiences I will forever treasure. But nothing, absolutely nothing, gives me the sense of fulfillment that writing does. As a singer, a teacher, a director, I’ve been recreating. As a writer, I am creating.
     And to have just one person say to me “I’ve read your book, and I loved it,” gives me a tremendous thrill. So please read my books. And read Scott’s books. We writers languish without readers. Oh, I have to plug my books here: (you can buy them on Amazon)

How I Grew Up, released October 2013. Eli’s Heart, released June 2014.
You Are My Song, planned release December 2014.

*Southard, Scott D. (2013-04-23). A Jane Austen Daydream (p. 357). Madison Street Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Will It End?

Where the Manhunt is Happening

     For well over a month, Pennsylvania State Police, along with federal agents, have been searching for a gunman who is accused of ambushing a PSP barracks in Northeastern Pennsylvania and shooting two state troopers, one fatally. Eric Frein has been evading hundreds of law enforcement officers by hiding in the woods of northern Monroe County since September 12, the night the shootings took place. Frein grew up in this area, and is a self-styled survivalist who knows his way around this rugged terrain.
     It seems he is for the most part hiding in two of the northernmost townships in our county, evading capture by hiding in the many nooks and crannies available to him. Simply disappearing into the thick undergrowth offers concealment. Many springs and streams are available for him to cross and re-cross, throwing trained tracking dogs off his trail repeatedly.
     Now, it appears he has slipped past a perimeter the LEOs believed they had him contained in, and has moved slightly south, nearer “civilization.” It is reported a local woman encountered him Friday night not far from a large school campus. Frein attended Pocono Mountain East High School near the small village of Swiftwater. On the campus of that part of the Pocono Mountain school district, there are actually four schools. They were all open yesterday, and things got a little dicey. After consideration, the district has opted to close all schools today. They were closed for a week when the manhunt first began.
     The campus is not far from a huge complex, Sanofi Pasteur, the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the United States. What began in 1897 as the Pocono Biological Laboratories was bought first by Connaught in Canada and eventually Sanofi. When Sanofi-Aventis was created, it became the third largest pharmaceutical company in the world, and Sanofi Pasteur now covers some 500 acres with 44 buildings. It fronts on a major highway, PA State Route 611. Across the highway is the Swiftwater Pennsylvania State Police Barracks.
     When I first moved to Monroe County from Cincinnati, over forty years ago, the county was very different. Population exploded here from the late nineteen sixties into the eighties, and again after 9/11. School districts were hard pressed to keep up with the influx of students, and a number of new schools were built in all four Monroe County districts.
     That has changed. Population growth slowed and began to reverse. The problem the districts now have is lack of a tax base to cover their operating expenses. Schools have closed as more people have left the area. The once thriving resort industry has almost disappeared. Many of the old resorts have been abandoned. If you’ve been following the manhunt, you may have seen images of LEOs searching through the huge, once grand Buck Hill Inn. Or a resort called Penn Hills. There are a number of others. All these empty buildings ─ hiding places for a fugitive. There are still weekend homes. There are many empty buildings all through these hills and woods.
     Frein, a lone fugitive, has an advantage. He knows the area better than the LEOs do. He’s one person, he can move fast and wherever he wants. I’m not sure I’m expressing this too well, but it seems perhaps tactical problems may be hindering the LEOs. It takes time to determine where they need to deploy and what they need to do even before they begin to pursue him. It does seem he may have been spotted a couple of times yesterday; one report was “near the Swiftwater Post Office.” 
     There is concern that he may be working his way to the PSP barracks on Route 611, which seems foolhardy but also may have been his intention all along. It would be another strike at his declared foe. There is no way of knowing what’s going on in his head, of course, or what the endgame will be.
     Sanofi Pasteur is a secure facility and it's my understanding that it is heavily guarded. Its' over two thousand employees must have I.D. to enter the facility. It’s hard to comprehend how immense it is. Driving that far up 611 is something I seldom do, but each time I’m impressed with Sanofi Pasteur as I pass it. It’s hard to believe how much it has grown over the past forty years. And it definitely indicates how varied our county is … just behind Sanofi the woods begin, and stretch all the way to the New York state line. And east to New Jersey.
     Some of the people living in those woods are descendants of families who settled this area more than two hundred years ago. “Locals,” they call themselves, with understandable pride. I’ve lived here for only forty-some years. My sons grew up here, still live here and think of themselves as locals, but they aren’t … they were both born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Heading north on 611 and turning right just beyond the tremendous complex that is Sanofi, a drive of less than a mile  takes the driver from one world to another; both are part of twenty-first century Monroe County.
     All of us who live here want Eric Frein caught today. Yesterday would have been better, but every morning we hope it will be today. It seems to me he may have just made it a much more dangerous game.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Manhunt Continues


     It’s maddening. There was a flurry of activity this afternoon, not in the “hot zone” as we had come to expect it, but a little south of that area and much too close to a local school complex. Pocono Mountain East schools include a high school, a junior high school, an intermediate school, and an elementary school on one campus. Very near the school – almost across a road, in fact, is Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of the third largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Sanofi-Aventis. Almost directly across from Sanofi on a major artery in the county is the Swiftwater Pennsylvania State Police Barracks.
     This campus was one that was closed for a week when the manhunt for accused assassin Eric Frein began in mid-September. We have been told that a “credible sighting” of Frein took place quite near the high school around 9 p.m. Friday, when a local woman was out walking and it would seem shone a flashlight on Frein who suddenly appeared. According to reports, he was within twenty feet of her, and she described him accurately to the law enforcement officers who questioned her. She confirmed that he was carrying a “rifle with a scope” and said he did not threaten her. This happened not far from the football field, and there was a football game taking place at the time.
     Despite this sighting, school officials elected to have the schools on the Swiftwater campus open today. Then ─ just about the time the schools were due to be dismissed ─ there was a huge flurry of LEO activity. According to a reporter for one of the TV channels, “Today's intense Frein search started when a local officer giving his K9 a break saw someone suspicious run into woods in Swiftwater.
     Just before schools began to be dismissed, it appears there was a sizable gathering of LEOs on the scene, including a large number of K9 troops. The high school and junior high school busses left on schedule. The other two schools, as nearly as I can surmise, were held for a time. The high school football and cheerleading teams were bussed to Pocono Mountain West High School for their practice. Whether they were returned to P.M. East to be picked up is uncertain.
     Employees of Sanofi were very much aware of low-flying helicopters. This was very close to a shift change at the company, and some were concerned about getting to their cars safely, or even being able to leave the premises in order to get home. There were news crews all around the area, and one was advised to move away from a particular area for “their own safety.”
     It really began to seem as if the LEOs finally had their man. Many of us were following all this on Facebook, amazingly enough. A local page had been established fairly recently for those most impacted by the search to share what they were witnessing firsthand with others of us who were hungry for news. It was nail-biting time, to be sure. However, the resolution seems to be that once again, Frein slipped away from his pursuers.
     The particular page on which I, as well as many other people, were being made aware of what was happening had 219 members when I joined it. I believe some two weeks later it has over 1,000, and has gone from “public” to “private” to “secret.” Reading the comments .. there were well over four hundred … almost gave us a sense of being there. Some of those commenting were at Sanofi. Some were parents of Pocono Mountain East school students who were agonizing over a child who wasn’t yet safely home. When we had word of a child arriving, I think all of us breathed a sigh of relief.
     The administrators of this page keep a close rein on this group. Minimum speculation, just report what you personally are witnessing. Any members who stray too far are blocked from the group. So what I’ve shared with you I believe is accurate information. The sense of immediacy in following the thread moment-by-moment is difficult to describe.
     Now sunset has come and gone, and the best opportunities for apprehending Eric Frein seem to have once more ended.
     Almost. But not this time.
     Soon. That’s what we all hope for.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's Been a Long Month

Life Goes On … In Spite of Eric Frein

     Here in the Pocono Mountains in Northeastern Pennsylvania, law enforcement officers (LEOs for short) have been searching for Eric Frein, the accused assassin of one state trooper and attempted murderer of another, since the ambush on September 12, over a month ago. We are told the search is concentrated on the line between two townships in the northern part of our county. I’m sure most people are surprised Frein is still evading the LEOs; however, unless you’ve been in our woods, it’s hard to imagine how difficult it is to try to track down someone in underbrush so thick a person standing three feet away can be completely concealed. Also, the terrain is extremely difficult. Huge boulders, rock walls thirty or more feet high with many nooks and crannies in them, and fallen trees make moving through the woods incredibly challenging.
     People living in the “hot zone” have become accustomed to the sound of helicopters, planes, and I believe I’ve read even drones have been employed at this point. Since the area where Frein is believed to be hiding has become much smaller, the number of active LEOs at any given time has been reduced. However, they continue to seek him with caution, which is fine with us. We do not want to see more bloodshed if it can possibly be avoided.
     “Eric Frein” has become part of our consciousness. Most people have a hard time even beginning to understand why he would have undertaken such a deed. The trooper who was killed left behind a family that included two young sons. The wounded trooper, to the best of my knowledge, is still hospitalized. When … or if … he will return to duty is unknown. The first thought on everyone’s mind in the morning is “will today be the day he’s finally apprehended?” Morale continues to be good in our community. But we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief when this is over. There has been a briefing by the PSP every week, I believe, until this week. Why there was not one this week no one seems to know.
     I’d like to get Eric Frein out of my head. We all would, but he’ll be there until this is resolved. I don’t know how the people who live in the “hot zone” manage, but they do. We read posts on Facebook from many of them, who generously keep us updated on the activity … as best as they understand what is going on.
     We had heavy rain last night, and many people posted thoughts and prayers for the law enforcement officers who were out all night continuing the hunt. What drives a person to do what Frein has done and continues to do? It’s very difficult for me … for most people … to comprehend.
     People manage to keep their lives going, though there have been some changes throughout the community. Barrett Township, which has for a very long time had a wonderful little Halloween Parade, has cancelled it this year. But all schools are in full session. People continue to be vigilant. “PSP Strong” tee-shirts were sold over the past week in several locations. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hockey team, the Penguins, dedicated a game last week to the Pennsylvania State Police and there was an abundance of those tee-shirts visible in the stands. The two little boys who lost their father just over a month ago dropped a puck on the ice. An honor guard of troopers presented the colors. It was very moving.
     In the meantime, elsewhere in the world, very bad events are occurring. I’ve read The Hot Zone. Having even one case of Ebola in the United States I find very disturbing, regardless of the assurances of the administration that an epidemic in this country is highly unlikely. I hope they are correct. I’m not too sure.
     I’d much rather write about people whose lives are filled with music and love.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creation or Destruction?


Dichotomy: A division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

What I want is to write about my books. What my blog readers want is to read more about Eric Frein, although there really isn’t much new to say. I sincerely wish I could tell you that Frein has been apprehended and taken into custody. Unfortunately, he continues to elude the massive efforts of some thousand law enforcement officers, as he has for nearly a month to date.

It has been weeks since I wrote a blog entitled “Living Under ‘Siege’,” and sadly, the “new normal” I discussed in that post has become a way of life for the people in my county, especially those in one particular part of the Poconos. They remain resolute and continue to support the members of law enforcement. “Barrett Proud” has become the watchword of the residents of that township. “PSP Strong” has become the watchword of this entire part of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The books I write are about as far removed from the enigma that is Eric Frein as can be imagined. My characters are people whose lives are filled with music and love. They are also people of great courage. My young heroine Melanie Stewart in How I Grew Up is dealing with a horrific family tragedy, and draws strength from her participation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s powerful musical drama, Carousel. She is an inspiration to her family and her friends. Melanie is not just a survivor, she finds strength within herself she didn’t know she had. She does more than cope. She shines.

My character Eli Levin, in Eli’s Heart, is a true hero. He is born with the daunting challenge of a badly damaged heart, the condition Tetralogy of Fallot. He undergoes surgery at a young age which gives him added years and makes it possible for him to live a more normal life, though the condition is not cured. Then it is discovered he is a musical genius, a pianist with a prodigious gift. Yet Eli manages not only to survive, but to thrive, and has a loving marriage and a vibrant career.

The protagonist in the novel I am currently writing, Jamie Logan, is a young man from an ordinary family who has a musical gift which he doesn’t begin to develop until he is in his early twenties. After a first marriage which ends after two years, Jamie goes back to college with dreams of having a career in opera. Jamie’s failed marriage leaves him with many doubts about himself. One family crisis after another creates problems for him. Jamie’s journey in You Are My Song is a difficult one. Yet with love and music in his life, Jamie finds a way to continue.

For all of these characters, the healing power of musical creativity is vital. Through music and with much courage they create productive, fulfilling lives.

I am baffled by a man such as Eric Frein, who rather than looking for a way to create, seems bent on destroying … lives, communities, and sadly, perhaps himself most of all. Yet all of us who live here want to understand him. Why has he done these things he is alleged to have done? Is he mentally ill? Is he innately evil? I personally hope he is captured and we learn more about what drives him to act as he does.

It’s difficult to live in this area at present and not be caught up in the events that continue to unfold. Daily we wish for news he has been caught. Presently, we’ve had no new insight, no news about what actually is happening in our forests and on our hillsides.

The “dichotomy” … the man who we are all focused on to some extent as opposed to the characters I have created and want to tell people about. The characters I hope people will read about in my books.

Here’s one Amazon 5-star reader review for Eli’s Heart:

They used to call them Blue Babies, the children born with a heart condition that dominated every aspect of their lives, lives which were never long. The central character in Susan Moore Jordan’s exceptional book Eli’s Heart, Eli Levin, born with Tetralogy of Fallot, gave his heart away instead of giving in to his heart. He fell in love with music as a child and as a teenager fell in love again, this time with the woman who years later would become his wife. Eli’s and Krissy’s path is more than a love story; their life together is filled with music, hope and raw courage. The characters of the stubborn, lovable, brilliant Eli and the wistful, loving Krissy are beautifully drawn and the music descriptions are expertly wrought by a writer/musician (there is a discography at the end of the book.) Eli’s story is fiction, but it was inspired by the remarkable story of an actual musician.

More information:

Thursday, October 9, 2014


More About "Eli's Heart"

“The story was fairy tale, full of music and wonder. I felt the love that Eli and Krissy had for each other. I recommend this to anyone who loves a good love story and a good cry.” – Margaret Bender, Amazon 5-Star Reader Review

There is a fairy tale element about Eli’s Heart; there almost has to be. Eli Levin comes into this world with two challenges: he has a heart that is not working correctly and can never be made normal; and he has a prodigious musical talent. Either of these is daunting. Taken together, they mean his hope for a productive, happy life will require a heroic effort. In the “Prologue,” the brief opening chapter of the book, Krissy thinks of Eli as “a noble prince.”

Eli’s heart condition means his life will inevitably end too soon. When he was born in the late 1930s, there was no hope for children with his condition: Tetralogy of Fallot. Many died in infancy; of those who did not, very few survived puberty. In 1944, though, a surgical procedure was developed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Eli had this surgery, which gave him a better quality of life and added years. But he feels he has very limited choices as to how he can make his life productive. Playing the piano is really all he can do.

Happiness: Eli feels very isolated, but while visiting his older, married sister in a small town in Tennessee as a teenager he meets Krissy, a girl a few months younger than he is. Through their shared passion for music, they quickly become good friends, and Eli hopes for more; but for several reasons the “more” never develops. They re-connect through letters and phone calls when they are both college students, and when Eli and Krissy see each other again they acknowledge the strong love between them. They marry while they are still in college. After graduate school he quickly begins a successful career as an accompanist.

Eli’s heart condition is always a shadow over his and Krissy’s happiness. Krissy eventually realizes what her life as Eli’s wife has to be. Eli tries to live a day at a time, grateful for each of those days. Krissy has to learn to “make every minute they have together the best minute of their lives,” advice she is given by the husband of a college friend who is a medical resident. She talks with Les Allen before she and Eli manage to see each other after a separation of three years.

After her talk with Les, Krissy writes to Eli to let him know she’s learned more about his heart condition, and concludes her letter:

I know you and I haven’t talked about what our future together might be. Maybe I am writing this and telling you all this too soon. But I think it’s important for you to know that I’ve learned more about your heart. If I should be so fortunate that you give that heart to me, I will treat it with love and tenderness, and I will do my best to help you face anything that happens.
Les said something to me I will remember all my life. He said, “If you love each other, make every minute you have together the best minute of your lives.” I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

I love you, Eli. I believe we are meant to be together. I don’t want you to hesitate because you think I don’t know what loving you includes. I will love all of you, especially the heart you told your sister I couldn’t break because it’s already broken. It’s the best heart I’ve ever known.

All my love forever,


ELI’S HEART can be purchased on Amazon, paperback currently on sale for $11.30 and Kindle edition for $6.99.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Living with a Manhunt: More About Eric Frein


     #EricFreinManhunt is a popular “hashtag” phrase on Twitter these days. Here in the Poconos we continue to live with the intense search for an accused murderer in our woodlands and hills. Most of us watch from a distance, but most of us also have close friends and even family members whose lives are directly impacted by the intensity of the search as it enters its fourth week.
     Posts on Facebook: videos of helicopters, with captions such as “Well, hello again” and “They’re back,” and comments such as “[my husband] says it’s the Department of Homeland Security.” A photo of a van labeled “Channel 10” news, with the caption “This was parked in front of my house.” Local/regional/national articles and items from newscasts posted, with numerous comments from people who live here. Or just a post: “Anything new?”
     Schools are all in full swing; people go about their daily lives as best they can. This could be hearsay, but I believe the local LEOs may no longer be part of the search. Crime in our communities didn’t go on hold; the perpetrators didn’t decide to take a few weeks off. The Pennsylvania State Police, police from New York State, agents from the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals Office and possibly the DHS carry on with trying to track down Eric Frein. From more than one source, the count of at least one thousand law enforcement officers.
     Local and area businesses, particularly establishments which serve food, help provide meals, beverages, snacks for the LEOs. The little town of Mountainhome is a sea of blue bows, showing support. Hand-lettered signs reinforce the support. Of course there is some grumbling, and some doubters who believe Frein is long gone, somewhere in the Canadian wilderness or perhaps in Mexico. Most of us find it hard to believe the search would be sustained for this length of time unless the people in charge have good reason to believe he’s here, hiding in our woods.
     And from time to time the excitement on Facebook is palpable: seems they nearly have him. One post follows another for sometimes hours, but nothing develops. I was particularly startled very recently by a Facebook status from my daughter-in-law who is near the search area, but not directly in it: “Yep. This is happening right now. My house is surrounded by cops and there are helicopters directly overhead.” Eventually I learned someone dressed in black was seen walking in that area and some of the troops responded immediately to check out the report.
     Most of the people in the immediate area like seeing the “cops.” They feel safer, though the populace has been told repeatedly Frein has not threatened civilians. His behavior is at the least bizarre, though, and who knows what he might do next. Archery hunting season started three days ago and has been indefinitely restricted in certain areas.
     No matter where in Monroe County you live, this situation has created an undercurrent of uneasiness, without a doubt. We all want him caught. We all want this to end. We all do NOT want another dead or wounded law enforcement officer, so it’s fine that they are moving cautiously.
     We’ve learned more about him. We’ve seen many photos, generally with him dressed in a replica of an Eastern European military uniform. We’ve learned he sent a text message to a local man self-described as Frein’s only friend. The text was sent the afternoon before the ambush on the Blooming Grove PSP barracks and read in part, “all is good” and “heading back to Delaware.” We’ve been told Frein had lied to people about working in Delaware as cover for his planned ambush.
     We’ve also learned he was arrested and jailed in New York State after stealing items from a vendor at a World War II re-enactment in 2004 in Odessa. Frein attempted to sell some of these items on eBay and eventually served some three months in jail, after being arrested for the theft and breaking bail. It’s possible this was the beginning of his vendetta against law enforcement officers.
     We are sure there is a great deal we are NOT being told. Any items that might be potential evidence during a trial, we don’t need to know about, and we are told little or nothing about. Anything that might be a danger to the residents, such as the two pipe bombs found last week, we are told about.

     As most people do, I receive text messages of news updates from the local newspaper. Hopefully the next text message I get will not be a frost advisory. It will be the capture of Eric Frein.