PENNSBURG, Pa. (AP) – Schools closed and hospitals and other public places tightened security Tuesday as police in suburban Philadelphia hunted for a Marine veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five of her relatives.
SWAT teams and local, state and federal law enforcement officers took part in the search for Bradley William Stone, who authorities say went on a 90-minute shooting rampage before daybreak Monday at three homes a few miles apart.
“We will find Mr. Stone,” Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman vowed.
Stone, 35, had been locked in a child custody dispute with his ex-wife, and Ferman said the attacks were targeted at people close to him. But “there could certainly be a risk to others,” she said, and she urged people not to confront him.
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Philadelphia police sent a helicopter with body-heat-sensing equipment to help in the search. As the manhunt dragged into Tuesday, four schools within a few miles of Stone’s home closed, and other schools were on lockdown.
The killings and the manhunt echoed another recent Pennsylvania tragedy – Eric Frein’s 48 days on the run through the Poconos after the ambush slaying of a state trooper in September.
The rampage unfolded in the towns of Harleysville, Lansdale and Souderton.
Stone’s former wife, 33-year-old Nicole Stone, was found dead in her apartment after a neighbor saw Stone fleeing around 5 a.m. with their two young daughters, authorities said. The girls were later found safe with Stone’s neighbors.
Police discovered five more people dead in two other homes: Nicole Stone’s mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and 14-year-old niece. A 17-year-old nephew was wounded in the head, and Ferman said he was in “very serious” condition.
SWAT teams surrounded Stone’s Pennsburg home for hours on Monday and demanded through a bullhorn that the Iraq War veteran give himself up. But he was gone.
Ferman discounted a reported sighting of Stone on Monday night in neighboring Bucks County and called off a search there.
Stone and his ex-wife had fighting over their children’s custody since she filed for divorce in 2009. He filed an emergency motion this month, although the resulting Dec. 9 ruling remained sealed in court files.
“She would tell anybody who would listen that he was going to kill her and that she was really afraid for her life,” said Evan Weron, a neighbor in Harleysville.
Ferman would not discuss the weapon or weapons used in the slayings and said authorities did not know if Stone was on foot.
Stone was probably wearing military fatigues and may have shaved off his facial hair, Ferman said. She added that he sometimes used a cane or walker.
“I’m (angry) because he could have come to my door and I could have taken him to a treatment center, and we could have worked this out,” said longtime friend Matthew Schafte.
Stone was in the Marines from 2002 through 2008. The former sergeant’s occupational specialty was listed as “artillery meteorological man.”
Schafte said he was not aware of any injuries Stone may have suffered as a Marine.
Stone had faced several driving-under-the-influence charges, one of which was handled in veterans’ court and led to a three- to 23-month sentence.
He remarried last year, according to his Facebook page and court records, and has an infant son. Neither his wife nor the son was injured. Nicole Stone became engaged over the summer, neighbors said.