CANADENSIS, Pa. - Search teams combing the dense, rugged woods not far from where two state troopers were shot on Sept. 12 - one fatally - have discovered an AK-47-style assault weapon like the one suspect Eric Frein was known to have.
That discovery and other clues, state police Lt. Col. George Bivens said Sunday, convinced authorities the searchers were closing in on the accused killer.
"We're pushing him hard," Bivens said. "He's no longer safe there."
With the weapon were two magazine clips of ammunition and a camouflage bag full of ammunition, all partially hidden in tangled forest undergrowth. It was not known whether Frein abandoned the weapon and ammunition or planted them in the woods to be used later, Bivens said.
Bivens would not say exactly where or when the items were found, but he did say they were not far from the Jeep Cherokee that Frein was believed to have abandoned about two miles from the state police barracks where the troopers were shot. The central focus of the search is along the border between Pike and Monroe Counties.
Frein, 31, is accused of shooting the troopers with another high-powered rifle outside the barracks on a rural road in Blooming Grove, Pike County. Based on interviews with Frein's acquaintances, Bivens said investigators believed he had "prepared and planned extensively for months or maybe years."
Regarding the attack, he said, "I don't say it's been well-planned, I just say it's been planned."
Cpl. Bryon Dickson, killed in the attack, was buried Thursday. Trooper Alex Douglass, who suffered a gunshot wound to the pelvis, remains in critical condition.
Bivens said Frein was believed to be heavily armed, still carrying the .308-caliber rifle with which the troopers were shot.
Heavily armed police with rifles drawn scoured the area Sunday night, closing some roads during their search along Snow Hill Road south of Canadensis.
Monroe County's 9,500-student Pocono Mountain School District, which shuttered classrooms for three days last week, will keep schools closed Monday out of safety concerns. So will Monsignor McHugh School, in the same area. Schools in the Wallenpaupack Area School District will open but with extra security.
Bivens, who spoke to the media in Blooming Grove, would not say authorities had had confirmed any sightings of Frein. But he said they were confident he was in the area, based on numerous possible sightings and the discovery of other items he would not disclose.
"He's losing items," Bivens said. "He's on the move."
Bivens said Frein was believed to be traveling on foot in an area 15 to 20 miles from where the Jeep was abandoned in Pike County and near where he lived with his parents in Canadensis, in Monroe County. Frein's parents' house was surrounded by armed troopers guarding against the possibility of his return.
The manhunt covers a broader 250-square-mile area of terrain difficult to navigate but intimately familiar to the self-trained survivalist.
"It is not an easy place to search, and to do it with some level of safety takes time," Bivens said.
"Up until now, his advantage has been that this is his backyard. He knows this rugged terrain. Our tactical operations people now also know his backyard, the area he once felt safe in."
Weary residents of the Poconos communities awoke Sunday to another day of siege and anxiety as battalions of armed officers continued the search.
The 8,000 residents of Barrett and Price Townships endured shelter-in-place orders until Saturday night, unable to leave or return to their homes because of the intense manhunt. State police continued to urge caution, warning residents to stay in their homes and away from the woods where officers were searching.
Normal late-summer weekend activities, including football games and church services, were called off as hundreds of officers from local, state, and federal agencies combed the forests. The sounds of thundering helicopters, screaming sirens, and reports of armed officers in backyards were commonplace.
The din began to die down Sunday at Carolyn Caruso's development in Canadensis, returning the rural village to a near-normal level of quiet. But an eerie silence took hold, she said.
Caruso, 45, a lab technician, was able to drive to the grocery store Sunday morning after being stuck in her house for 24 hours. She said she was still stressed and fatigued from the manhunt and had lost several full nights of rest.
"I've been sleeping very lightly knowing something is going on," she said. "I haven't felt threatened by this personally. It's more not knowing what's going on and having so much happen around us."
Caruso, who moved to Canadensis from New York with her husband eight years ago, often runs and bikes along the trails near her house. Those trails are now filled with officers in search of Frein.
"We moved from New York to have a little more quiet and to be in more of a country rural setting," she said. "And now we've run into the same kind of crazy, stressful, and unimaginable situation that you never thought would happen out here."
State police said Saturday "extreme precautionary measures" were being taken because of the violent nature of the crimes of which Frein is accused.
Officials urged residents to remain extremely cautious, keep their homes and vehicles locked, immediately report anything suspicious, and keep the outside of their homes well-lighted.
"Look for open shed doors or other locations that were once secure but now appear open, and immediately report the information," state police urged.
"Do not approach or encounter any suspicious persons or vehicles, but rather report them immediately," they said. "The suspect is still considered armed and dangerous."