Kids in northeastern Pennsylvania will be able to go trick-or-treating after all, now that that the real-life monster Eric Frein has been captured.
The 31-year-old self-described survivalist and military re-enactor was finally arrested Thursday by U.S. marshals who spotted him outside his hiding place in an abandoned airplane hangar at a shuttered Pocono Mountains resort.
The marshals ordered Frein to get down on his knees and raise his hands. He complied, unable to get to the two guns he had nearby, a pistol and likely the same .308 rifle that was used seven weeks ago to kill 38-year-old Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wound 33-year-old Trooper Alex Douglass.
“He was definitely taken by surprise,” Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan later said. “He gave up because he was caught and he had no choice but to give up.”
Frein was placed in handcuffs that belonged to the murdered Dickson. The suspect was then hustled out of the surrounding woods and placed in an armored vehicle before being loaded into the back of what had been Dickson’s police cruiser. His only injury was a scratch on his nose.
“But he had that before we got there,” Noonan reported.
Frein sat in the murdered cop’s car appearing tired and angry. He was dressed in black and he was as dirty as might be expected, but he had surprisingly little beard, apparently having paused to shave within the past few days.
“He looked healthier than I thought he would,” Noonan said.
With lights flashing, the cruiser arrived at the Blooming Grove State Police barracks in Pike County. Dickson had been leaving there at the end of a tour and was heading home to his wife and two young sons on the night of September 12 when he was gunned down by a sniper concealed in the darkened woods.
The two troopers who now led Frein inside 48 days later are said to have included Cpl. Derek Felsman, who had delivered the eulogy at Dickson’s funeral at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton. Felsman had spoken of Dickson as an “impeccable” former Marine who took great joy in making wooden toys for his sons and great pride in wearing a trooper’s uniform.
“A steadfast soldier of the law,” Felsman had said of his friend and comrade.
Frein had been a fantasy soldier who had apparently decided to draw real blood with real bullets. A search team after the shooting found two pipe bombs and an AK-47 that Frein had apparently abandoned, along with a journal. An entry bearing the date of the attack read:
“SEPTEMBER 12: Got a shot around 11 p.m. and took it. He dropped. I was surprised at how quick. I took a follow-up shot on his head, neck area. He was still and quiet after that. Another cop approached the one I just shot. As he went to kneel, I took a shot at him and [he] jumped in the door. His legs were visible and still.”
The entry was read aloud by Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens at a September press conference a few days later. Bivens then added some words of his own.
“I can only describe Eric Frein’s actions as pure evil,” Bivens said. “Every so often, true evil rears its ugly head and we must deal with it.”
Bivens made a pledge.
“We will get Frein. It is a matter of time before we catch him.”
Bivens and Noonan and the other cops privately discussed using Dickson’s handcuffs if they managed to capture Frein alive.
“We decided it would be fitting,” Noonan would recall.
As many as 1,000 law-enforcement officers joined the hunt, going night and day, their families knowing all the while that at any moment Frein could be peering through his sights, a trigger pull from killing another cop. The searchers used dogs and night-vision goggles and infrared sensors and helicopters and even tried deploying a small unmanned blimp equipped with a camera. They thought they spotted him on at least two occasions, but he was too far away for them to grab him.
At one point, they came upon Serbian cigarettes that DNA testing confirmed were Frein’s. He was known to be fascinated by the Serbian army, in particular a unit called the Drina Wolves, which was infamous for massacring 7,500 Muslims in Bosnia in 1995.
A number of civilians also reported Frein sightings, once near the high school he attended. They described him as clad in black, his face smeared with mud. The searchers would flood the area only to be frustrated again. A woman noticed blood near a chicken coop, but a test proved it not to be Frein’s.
Wanted posters bearing Frein’s photo went up as far away as the New York City subways, but the searchers remained convinced that he was still in the patch of Pennsylvania where he had been raised. The hunt was said to cost more than $1 million a week. Nobody thought of abandoning it.
The searchers still had not found Frein as Halloween neared, and Barrett Township canceled what was to have been its 50th annual parade, along with trick-or-treating. The town of Paradise told parents that trick-or-treating was “at your discretion.”
Then, shortly before 6 p.m. on the night before Halloween, a team of U.S. marshals saw a black-clad figure in an open field outside the abandoned hangar at the Birchwood Resort. Frein was arrested before he could do anybody any more harm.
“I am very relieved that this ended peacefully,” Noonan later said.
Noonan notified Dickson’s widow, Tiffany, as well as the wounded Douglass that Frein had been captured.
“Relief and gratitude was the reaction,” Noonan reported afterward.
Frein was lodged in a holding cell at Blooming Grove barracks. Those who attended a press conference held nearby included Noonan and Bivens, as well as Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who announced that he would be seeking the death penalty.
Tonkin said he expected Frein to be brought before a judge sometime on Friday, which happens to be Halloween. Officials at Barrett Township had already made known that the big parade was back on and that the kids would be able to trick-or-treat after all.
“Because Eric Frein was arrested tonight, the children can go on and have Halloween tomorrow,” Tonkin noted.
But the kids who should be foremost in everybody’s mind are the Dickson boys, Bryon Dickson III and Adam. They were home with their lovingly made wooden toys and the Pennsylvania State Police hat one of the boys had worn at the funeral after a real-life monster murdered their father.
Just imagine how delighted Cpl. Bryon Dickson would have been to take his boys out trick-or-treating, if only he had been able.