Driving home late on the night of June 23, I saw police cars ahead at the intersection of Church and Awosting roads in Shawangunk, the route to my home in Gardiner. Waived through the turn by police, I faced the astonishing sight of police car lights flashing as far as the eye could see and men in camo or in blue, guns drawn.
I drove very slowly through the phalanx of whirling lights and dozens of armed men, for approximately one-half mile to the next junction where I would turn uphill on the Ridge.
I stopped my car and lowered the window to ask one of the officers what was going on.
“Searching for two escaped fugitives. We think they’re on foot in the woods between Church and Upper Mountain. They’re dangerous. We’re looking for them.”
“I live up there.”
My dog, very protective of our car, was barking and snarling from the back seat.
“Barricade yourself in. That dog’s the best protection you’ve got.”
It was a sleepless night. At 6 a.m. Saturday, I called the Shawangunk Police and was told that the fugitives were “believed to have left the area.” When I asked if they had been located or apprehended, and was told no, the next logical question was why they were “believed” to be gone. Hmmm…
Had I not been at ground zero the night before, and for all I knew, continued to be, I might not have been as obsessed with the situation as I was, and still am.
At noon, I went into Pine Bush to get horsefeed at Tractor Supply and decided to stop at the local (Town of Crawford) police station to scope out any new info.
They said “the State Police are running the show. They don’t tell us anything.”
Around 3 p.m., a NYState Alert popped up on my cellphone with the message: ARMED AND DANGEROUS FUGITIVES IN THE AREA. TAKE PRECAUTIONS.
And so it went. That Sunday’s Times Herald-Record reported that the fugitives attacked a man in a home invasion in Bloomingburg. They are believed to have numerous relatives in our area, and were supposedly spotted at a Pennsylvania Walmart, buying camping equipment. At this writing, they remain armed and dangerous, whereabouts unknown.
Why write about this?
Because three weeks ago, I might have been confronted with sudden violence. Because not one member of law enforcement who saw a woman driving alone into the specific terrain of great danger warned me of it, without my having to ask. Because the search area that night was small — maybe 50 very rural households at most — and none of the dozens of police cars or milling officers were assigned to go house to house warning unsuspecting, isolated, vulnerable residents to “barricade yourself in.” Families did not know. If their doors were even locked, they would in all likelihood have opened them to a young couple.
Because maybe there should be a dialog among members of the community with the police who protect them, and many of whom also live here with their families.
Together, we could try to figure out if there are better ways to address circumstances like this. Communication and getting information was also a problem during the Ridge fires last year, but at least we could see or smell the fire and know if it was approaching.
Because maybe some of those ubiquitous portable “your are going __mph” warning signs, could have been utilized to inform the public of proximate and extreme danger. Maybe the public could have been enlisted to distribute “wanted” pictures of the pair to local gas stations, supermarkets, pharmacies and gun stores.
Because we are still afraid.
New York State residents can sign up for NY-Alert notifications at www.nyalert.gov. (I was already signed up, but did not receive the DANGER!DANGER! message on my cell until late the following day.) The Middletown barracks State Police phone number is 845-344-5300. The Shawangunk Sheriff’s office number is 895-2233.
Town of Crawford Police (Pine Bush) are at 255-6166.