Old 09-05-2006, 05:26 PM   #1
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Default Manhunt Focuses On A Freight Train

The massive search for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips moved to Hamburg late Monday night, as police stopped a train after a man was seen jumping from a freight car at about 9 p.m.
SWAT teams and police helicopters converged on CSX railroad tracks south of the Ford Stamping Plant.

The train had passed within five miles of where two state troopers were ambushed Thursday night.

But after police searched freight cars and the nearby residential and wooded areas with no sign of Phillips, the train moved on about three hours later.

Police continue to say they do not believe Phillips has fled the area. "As they say, the noose is tightening," State Police Maj. Mark Manning said at a news conference Labor Day afternoon in Fredonia.

In nearby Cassadaga, meanwhile, the Rev. Patrick Elis is now keeping Immaculate Conception Catholic Church open and the lights on 24 hours a day, seven days a week - in hopes that the state's most wanted fugitive will walk in and surrender.

"Bucky Phillips is like a trapped rat right now," the Catholic priest said late Monday. "I'm trying to give him a channel where he can safely give himself up without hurting himself or anyone else."

Elis made the same public offer to Phillips in late June, and he wishes the runaway convict had taken him up on it.

Elis' church on North Main Street is about a mile from where Phillips is alleged to have shot two state troopers - one of them fatally.

More than 280 troopers and dozens more officers from an array of agencies, including the Buffalo SWAT team, the FBI and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, have descended on Chautauqua County to search.

Manning told a throng of reporters Monday that there have been no reports of any stolen cars in the vicinity over the last few days and no credible sightings of Phillips, either - leading authorities to believe he is hunkered down somewhere in the hills of the Southern Tier and unable to escape.

"I think he's in hiding," Manning said.

Sunday night and Monday marked a solemn time for troopers, Manning said.

A memorial service was held outside State Police barracks here to announce the death of Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo, who succumbed to his wounds three days after he and Trooper Donald H. Baker Jr. were shot.

"There were enough tears flowing," Manning said. "I joined in them."

Baker and Longobardo, members of the specially trained Mobile Response Team, were in woods behind the isolated hilltop home of Phillips' former girlfriend when a gunman caught them by surprise and fired 11 high-powered rifle rounds from within 100 yards, police said. A bullet severed a major artery in Longobardo's leg. Another bullet pierced Baker's bullet-resistant vest and torso.

Baker remained in serious condition Monday at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa., police said.

A motorcade of trooper vehicles escorted Longobardo's body Monday morning from Erie County Medical Center, where he died Sunday afternoon, to Buffalo Niagara International Airport to be flown back to his home in Saratoga County.

State Police said funeral arrangements were still up in the air, but the service could take place in the Albany area.

Longobardo's death Sunday, along with the $225,000 reward for Phillips' capture, appears to have transformed the public perception of him.

"People are taking it more seriously," Manning said.

Now local residents are leaving mixed bouquets of flowers and potted chrysanthemums in front of the Fredonia trooper barracks, at the base of the flagpoles where the U.S. and trooper flags were at half-staff.

The owners of La Nova pizzerias have supplied boxes and boxes of pies to the troopers' command center, as well as to the hospitals where the wounded troopers were treated.

The Rev. Joe Moreno, a priest at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Buffalo and a former Buffalo Police Department chaplain, drove down to deliver rosaries that had been blessed by Pope John Paul II to weary and grieving troopers.

"Everyone is praying for a peaceful end," Moreno said.

The Buffalo police's SWAT team has been on hand for the last three days and has been joined by SWAT teams from Jamestown and Rochester.

Capt. Mark Maraschiello, commander of Buffalo SWAT, said he and his men had trained with Longobardo and Baker.

Dressed in full camouflage and donning bullet-proof vests, Maraschiello said the team members have been assisting the State Police around the clock.

"We're here to do anything they need us to do," he said.

Overnight Sunday and throughout Monday, authorities received several tips about possible sightings - but all failed to pan out.

Cheryl Ritch, who lives on Shumla Road where the police staged a search operation, was out walking her dog when she saw a sudden commotion.

"They think it's my husband!" she cried out. "He has long hair and a beard."

Ritch dashed into the woods where she found her husband, Greg Forsgren, who has long silver hair. He looked a little perplexed, but not too frightened, as armed officers watched him suspiciously.

Ritch went back to her home to find his ID to show the police that he wasn't Phillips.

"I wasn't scared," he said. "They were polite."

Troopers have been called out to several mistaken sightings over the past few days, many of which have been hunters. Manning pleaded with hunters and trappers to stay out of the forests until Phillips is caught - especially in areas where traffic checkpoints are set up.

"We have hunters dressed in camouflage and they're in the woods," Manning said. "They're tying up a lot of resources. People have to know that there's law enforcement out there and to be out checking deer cameras and deer stands . . . We even had a lady checking turtle traps."

The community has been in an uproar since the trooper shootings, Elis said. He said he is keeping his church in Cassadaga open not only for Phillips, but for any local resident who wants to come in and pray, talk or simply feel safe for a few hours.

He said community fears have been heightened by the fact that police believe Phillips may have stolen up to 41 guns - including high-powered rifles - during a recent break-in at a gun shop in nearby Ellington.

"People are frightened," Elis said. "They worry about all-out warfare between this man and the police. Somebody could be caught in the cross fire. [Phillips is] a dangerous man with a high-powered gun and possible access to 40 other guns."
-Alex Moss
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