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Authorities Search For Ambush Suspect In Pocono Mountains

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A massive manhunt is underway in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Hundreds of police are searching for a man alleged to have killed one State Trooper and wounded another in an ambush earlier this month. They say he's a survivalist and believe he's hiding near his home in the mountains. Reporter Emma Jacobs travelled to Poconos and filed this report.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Police have blockaded the road leading up a steep hill into a wooded neighborhood. In about 10 minutes, eight to 10 law enforcement vehicles go in and out, State police, the fire department. A few civilians pull up and are turned away. Police identified a man who lived here with his parents, 31-year-old Eric Frein, as their main suspect late last week. They discovered his car submerged in a pond near the crime scene, with shell casings inside from the gun like the one used in the shooting. Since Thursday temporary shelter and place orders and unpredictable road blocks have turned his neighbor's lives upside down.

JOSEPHINE MERO: I've been basically held hostage all weekend, not being able to go freely in and out of my community or even in and out of my house.

JACOBS: Josephine Mero was waiting for her meal at the Mountainhome Diner yesterday. The first time she ventured out since she was let back into her home last week. On the way out she'd seen police preparing another assault into the thick woods.

MERO: Police cars in driveways and also lining the road itself and they are basically - the ones that are on the road are in position with their weapons facing in the direction of the woods. And that's a little scary.

JACOBS: Helicopters can be heard faintly overhead throughout the day. Mero, A native New Yorker moved full-time to her vacation home here after 9/11.

MERO: Of course this is an unusual circumstance. It hasn't been like this and it's been quite comforting. But it's a wake-up call that it doesn't matter where you are life is going to happen.

JACOBS: The State Police aren't talking as much to media now. Early in the manhunt they were addressing the subject personally at press conferences. State Police Lieutenants George Bivens said, quote, "we are coming for you. It's only a matter of time." But after more than 10 days combing the woods he sounded more subdued.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIEUTENANT GEORGE BIVENS: I do believe that we are close to him at this point.

JACOBS: People in town say that in just a few weeks the leaves will fall from the trees, so that might make it easier for searchers. The State Police say that their suspect had the chance to shoot at civilians at the time of the ambush, but seemed to be focused on targeting police officers. Mike Rothe, who spent the afternoon across the street from the police staging ground doing his work for the water company, is also keeping the door locked at home, even though he lives 20 minutes from the search zone.

MIKE ROTHE: I live near a police station, so I don't feel quite as, as you might think you might be safer near a police station, but right now in this circumstance it's, I guess it's a possibility to be more unsafe.

JACOBS: As the manhunt has dragged on Rothe and others here have begun to wonder if the person police are searching for is really in the woods.

ROTHE: Being where we are we don't know what's going on. So, you know, the kids are out of school and - do we send our kids to school? What's s - you know, a little bit more knowledge about what makes him think that he's there would be nice to know.

JACOBS: Over the weekend church services and social events were canceled. But as the search has stretched on, schools reopened yesterday. Attendance was optional. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.