Eric Frein: Is reenactor waging private cold war on Pa. cops?

Eric Frein, who is accused of killing one police officer and wounding another, appears to have taken the role he plays as a Serbian soldier in the cold-war era into real life, investigators say.

Matt Slocum/AP
Law enforcement officers walk across the street during a funeral service for Pennsylvania State Trooper Cpl. Bryon Dickson, in Scranton, Pa., on Thursday. Dickson was killed on Friday night in an ambush shooting at the state police barracks in Blooming Grove Township. Eric Frein has been charged with killing one trooper and wounding another outside the barracks.

The ambush took place last Friday night under a gibbous moon, at a state police barracks in northeast Pennsylvania.

Instead of peering from the cover of woods and darkness and seeing a group of peace officers in the rural United States, did Eric Frein, the man believed to have killed one trooper and injured another, see a scene something more out of a John le Carré cold-war novel when he raised his rifle?

The manhunt has intensified in recent days as police believe Mr. Frein, a survivalist, crack shot, and cold war reenactor who has been known to wear authentic Serbian uniforms, has bedded down in a “cold, damp” place somewhere in the Poconos, perhaps to attack police again. At nearly 11 p.m. last Friday night, police allege, Frein used a .308-caliber rifle in a brazen ambush on the barracks. He then slipped like a shadow into the woods, and has remained undetected for nearly a week.

As family, fellow officers and friends held a funeral for Cpl. Bryon Dickson on Thursday, tensions remained high in the region as several school districts kept kids at home for the second day in a row, and police officials advised residents to keep doors locked and to keep an eye on backyard sheds. Another trooper, Alex Douglass, remained in critical condition at a local hospital.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting the Pennsylvania State Police in the investigation, including agents from the FBI's evidence recovery unit, interviewers, and aerial surveillance assets, and a federal warrant has been issued for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, CBS News reports.

Police have continued to release new details about Frein, whom they have called a survivalist, both in practice and ideology, and, more personally, a “coward.” A member of his high school target-shooting team, Frein, 31, has jumped from job to job since an arrest for larceny in 2006, and recently lived with his parents, including his Army veteran father, near where the attack happened, at Blooming Grove, Pa.

Frein spent 109 days in a New York county jail in 2004 after police charged him with grand larceny for allegedly stealing uniforms and other memorabilia from a vendor at a World War II reenactment event. He ended up pleading down from a felony to a misdemeanor charge of possession of stolen property, because he agreed to pay $3,120 in restitution. A judge gave him credit for time served and released him after the sentencing hearing.

His friends have called Frein intelligent, open, and normal, but police now believe that Frein, who has since his arrest repeatedly expressed his hatred for police on social media, has taken his activities as a cold-war reenactor, who plays the role of an East European soldier, into the real world. 

“It is believed that Frein has assumed the simulation role, and is now acting it out in real life,” using live ammo instead of the Airsoft rifles his so-far-unnamed reenactment group uses during their demonstrations, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said late Wednesday.

Lieutenant Colonel Bivens underscored that belief by noting that Frein, perhaps in mental preparation for his solo assault on the barracks, recently changed his hairstyle by shaving the sides of his head into a wide “Mohawk” style cut.

The deadly sniper assault and the so-far unsuccessful manhunt for a would-be Cold War soldier has unnerved the Pocono Mountain region, as Frein managed to lay siege to the area’s normal sense of tranquility.

At Corporal Dickson’s funeral Thursday morning, hundreds of mourners listened to softly played bagpipes outside St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton, Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) filed in behind the casket as a choir sang inside the church.

Police investigators say that Frein may not be done targeting police. In an answer to that prospect, Bivens warned Frein, “We are coming for you.”

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