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.