'Survivalist' murder suspect goes to ground in huge earthen 'bug out' bunker

The survivalist movement is aimed toward apocalypse and social meltdown. But for some, the end game is one of their own making, as seems to be the case with accused murderer Peter Keller, holed up in an earthen fort.

Elaine Thompson/AP
A sign warning of murder suspect Peter Keller at a trailhead several miles from where the gun-toting survivalist is suspected of killing his wife and daughter. Keller may be holed up in a self-made fort not far from Seattle's outer suburbs.

ASSOCIATED PRESS UPDATE: Authorities in Washington state say they've found a body in an elaborate bunker they had surrounded in the Cascade Mountains, and it appears to be that of a man wanted for killing his wife and teenage daughter last weekend. Sheriff's Sgt. Katie Larson says a tactical team used explosives to breach the top of the bunker, and when they looked inside they found a man who appeared to be 41-year-old Peter Keller dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Police in North Bend, Wash., say they have laid siege to a huge earthen bunker in the Cascade Mountains where they believe Peter Keller, a self-avowed survivalist, has gone to ground after allegedly murdering his wife and teenage daughter.

The secret mountainside fort, which fits the survialist community’s description of a “bug out location,” or BOL, is “extensive” and intricate, police say, with multiple entrances and levels. King County, Wash., police believe Mr. Keller, a computer engineer, built it over a span of eight years in a location several hundred yards from the head of the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail, about 30 miles east of Seattle.

Police believe the fort is well stocked with, among other things, high-powered weaponry, food, water, and gas masks. Police managed to fire one tear gas volley through one of its entrances in order to smoke Mr. Keller out, but it didn’t work. Police say the gas may not have penetrated through the whole complex.

"This isn't a hole in the ground. This is a large built-up structure," Sheriff Steven Strachan told reporters. "But hidden. It took some time to find it.”

Since 9/11 and the real estate recession, according to some observers of the movement, growing numbers of Americans are preparing for a major disaster or global financial meltdown.

Survivalist blogs are popular, and two years ago one of the leaders of the movement, journalism school graduate Jim Rawles, penned “Patriot: Surviving the Coming Collapse,” which broke into the New York Times bestseller list. The idea of building secret and well-fortified rural retreats is one espoused by Mr. Rawles and other survivalism advocdates.

Hot on the trend, TV is currently packed with reality-based survival shows, including “Doomsday Preppers,” a National Geographic show about outwardly regular Americans who are stocking up on guns and powdered milk. Bushcrafting, or barebones survivalism centered on knife-work, is a vibrant US subculture, epitomized by Arizona survival teacher Cody Lundin, known for wearing a Swedish Mora knife in a sheath that he wears around his neck.

Survivalists have pegged the US Northwest, including Idaho and Washington, as probably the best place to survive an apocalypse.

While doomsaying has been around since before Biblical times, many believe America is in its third wave of survivalism, an era unique for its focus on communal survival and embrace of environmentalism. Survivalism also peaked in the early 1980s amid a US-Russian arms race and in the 1990s, ahead of concerns about Y2K, which spawned a popular book, “The Hippy Survival Guide to Y2K.”

Interest in the survivalist movement “is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s,” Rawles told the New York Times several years ago. Unlike the caricature of someone in camoflauge gear carrying an AK-47, today’s survivalists are a diverse lot, experts say.

But as it’s become more diverse, inclusive and even communal, the survivalism community continues to attract people who put their own survival above the welfare of others. “Unabomber” Ted Kacsynski, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, and Colton Harris-Moore, the “Barefoot Bandit,” were all accomplished and avowed survivalists who retreated to the woods after lashing out at society, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Similar to Mr. Rudolph, who lived within earshot of  Franklin, N.C., for five years while evading capture by the FBI, Mr. Keller’s hideout was actually close to civilization, given that Rattlesnake Ridge is a popular hiking destination.

In Keller’s case, the disaster he had prepared for, it also  appears, became one of his own making. So far, his survival preparations have kept him technically a free man, although police say their seige of the compound has Keller “contained.”

Police say they are not clear about what motivated Keller to allegedly kill his family and attempt to set his home ablaze.

"We gathered he had a doomsday attitude…. Family and friends have indicated he thought the world was going to end at some point," King County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Cindi West told CNN.

Keller has been on the run since last Sunday. Detectives used photographs found on a family computer to triangulate and pinpoint the general area where the bunker might be hidden. The standoff began Friday when police found the bunker after smelling a whiff of wood smoke and hearing noises coming from inside the fort.

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