Dougherty Gang: Amid hail of bullets, fugitive family caught in Colorado

Guns blazing, the three Florida siblings of the Dougherty Gang embarked on week-long cross-country flight before crashing during a high-speed chase on Wednesday in Colorado, police say.

FBI/Atlanta Journal & Constitution/AP
These undated FBI photos show (l. to r.) Lee Grace Dougherty, Dylan Dougherty Stanley, and Ryan Edward Dougherty. Colorado State Police said Wednesday that they captured the trio, known as the Dougherty Gang, which had been on the run since leaving Florida on Aug. 2.

As the Dougherty Gang – three heavily-armed siblings from Florida's Pasco County – led police on a cross-country chase over the past week before being captured Wednesday in Colorado, America caught a glimpse into the unique dynamics of an outlaw family.

Police say the trio – part-time exotic dancer Lee Grace Dougherty, brother Ryan, and half-brother Dylan Dougherty Stanley – all had extensive rap sheets and lived together in a specially constructed underground bunker replete with lights, water, and a stockpile of weapons.

The sibling dimension of the Dougherty Gang touched a long-held fascination in the US with criminal families, ranging from the Gambino and Genovese mob clans in New York to the Menendez brothers, who in 1989 murdered their parents, to the sensational story of kidnappers Nathan and Richard Loeb of Chicago in 1924. As far back as 1912, the wildly popular research book, "The Kallikak Family," posited that criminal tendencies are hereditary.

"Americans are fascinated by cases that involve families, because it kind of challenges their assumptions" about the impact of child-rearing, says Richard Wright, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and author of the book, "Armed Robbers in Action: Stickups and Street Culture." "What is it about this particular family dynamic that caused so many of them to become criminals? Is it a biological thing? Is it an upbringing thing? We want to know."

The Doughertys' fugitive flight began on Aug. 2, the day after Ryan was forced to register as a sex offender for sending 400 sexually explicit texts to an 11-year-old girl.

The chase began when the trio, driving a white 2006 Subaru Impreza, allegedly outran a Pasco County sheriff's deputy, leading him on a four-mile, 100-m.p.h. chase. In a police car video of the chase, the Subaru seemed to slow down at one point to try to ambush the cruiser, with the occupants of the Subaru firing as many as 20 rounds at one point.

The trio then traveled north on I-75 into Georgia, where they are suspects in a brazen, gun-wielding bank robbery in Valdosta, Ga., on the same day. Afterward, there were sightings of the gang in Georgia and Tennessee and Colorado before police caught their trail.

The three were captured Wednesday outside of Colorado Springs after a 20-mile high-speed chase that ended when the Doughertys' car hit a guard rail on I-25 near Walsenburg, Colo., and flipped over. Colorado State Police have said the Doughertys were shooting at police during the chase.

After the crash, one of the siblings was reported shot in the leg and was taken into custody with one of the men. The other briefly escaped but was captured shortly thereafter at a local motel.

"Short pursuit with 3 sibling fugitives from Florida ends in crash, three in custody," the Colorado State Patrol tweeted.

Police feared that the trio's desperation could lead to a shootout. At one point during the manhunt, Pasco County police said, one of the siblings texted their mom, "There's a time for all of us to die."

On her profile, Ms. Dougherty gave some hints at the Dougherty family dynamic. Ms. Dougherty wrote that she liked to "farm and shoot guys and wreck cars." She also referred to herself as a "redneck and proud of it" who liked "causing mayhem with my siblings."

Family bonds, especially, can play into what Professor Wright calls "self-reinforcing behavior" that can spiral out of control.

"Once somebody takes an action, in this case a shootout, then you're off and running," says Wright. "After that events take on a logic of their own, especially when you have these self-enclosed systems of self-reinforcing behavior. None of them make sense except in relation to one another."

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