(CNN) — Eric Matthew Frein may have been spotted within the past 24 hours in the wooded area where authorities have been searching for three weeks, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said Tuesday.
Frein is being sought in the death of Cpl. Byron Dickson in a September 12 ambush outside the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Blooming Grove.
Frein, 31, is the suspect in a September 12 ambush that left Cpl. Byron Dickson dead and another trooper wounded outside the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania. He is still being sought.
Police were able to track Frein through his cell phone when he called his parents one time earlier this month, a federal law enforcement official told CNN. Frein hung up after one ring, the source said.
Authorities asked CNN not to report Frein’s cell phone use at the time. The detail can be reported now because police have identified the area where they believe Frein to be. The cell phone has not been turned on since that time.
“I’m not going to comment on anything that may have been done with cell phones,” Bivens said Friday.
Direct message from police
Addressing Frein directly, the colonel said, “You are a coward. Your actions have caused tremendous disruption for an innocent community all while you try to hide from us. We are not intimidated. We will not leave … We will protect the community. We will find you and we will bring you to justice.”
The nearly two-week search for Frein included the abandoned Buck Hill Inn, a sprawling 46-acre hotel complex.
“Frein has been known to visit the area in the past and it is a large facility that needs to be cleared,” Pennsylvania State Trooper Tom Kelly said via email. “There has been no sighting there or no one specific reason as to why it is being searched.”
Bivens added, “We do know he has an interest in that location and do know he has spent some time there.”
A war buff obsessed with Eastern European military conflicts, Frein has “experimented with explosives,” Bivens said. “We are taking that into consideration” and checking for “booby traps” while searching cabins and caves where Frein might have been hiding. The suspect may have a radio with him.
“There is nothing in our investigation that indicates Frein has left the area,” he said.
Suspect described as very meticulous
Frein appeared in an upcoming documentary about Vietnam War re-enactors called “Vietnam Appreciation Day.”
“Eric kind of kept himself to the side,” Patrick Bresnan, the director, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “He had mannequins that he brought that he dressed in uniforms. He was very meticulous about the layout of those mannequins, the weaponry that were with them. He had magazines from the period, letters from soldiers back to their family and a lot of photography.”
Bresnan said most re-enactors see what they do as a hobby. A small percentage, however, take the practice too seriously, even hoarding both antique and modern weapons. There is a sense of empowerment they feel re-enacting battles, he said.
“There is the point in which the fantasy of being a soldier kind of gets blurred and they become a soldier,” he said. “And I think that’s what we are seeing here with Eric.”
Bresnan’s wife, Ivette Lucas, who also worked on the film, said of Frein: “He was very specific, very precise about what he did. And he actually preferred to do what they call tactical re-enactments, which are re-enactments that are private and that are performed in the woods where they actually go out and hunt the, you know, in this case, Viet Cong… He might have just snapped and took the fantasy a little bit, well, way more seriously. “
On Wednesday, with as many as 1,000 law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt at any given time, authorities revealed that the meticulous, grid-like search over some 3 square miles of rugged terrain was paying off.
There have been a number of sightings of a man believed to be Frein by both residents and police, Bivens said without giving further details.
The sightings were from a significant distance, however.
The search has yielded an empty pack of Serbian cigarettes, Bivens said. Frein claims to have fought with Serbians in Africa and has studied Russian and Serbian languages, according to the FBI, which last week named him one of its 10 Most Wanted fugitives. Soiled adult diapers were also found, perhaps used by Frein to stay in a stationary position for long periods of time.
Authorities have said that Frein hated law enforcement and that they believe that he’s solely focused on hurting more officers but not civilians.
Trooper Alex T. Douglass survived the shooting.
“I think this is a game to him in some ways,” Bivens said of Frein this week.
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz and David Shortell contributed to this report.