|Fugitive Congratulates Cops on Capture|
|By ALYSSA NEWCOMB (@alyssanewcomb)||Apr 3, 2013, 12:41 PM|
Utah's elusive mountain man may have inadvertently revealed his identity to two hunters, setting off a massive police operation to snare the man authorities said had roamed a vast mountainous area for six years, allegedly burglarizing and shooting up cabins.
After he allegedly fired shots at a police helicopter, pointed his gun at a sheriff and led authorities on a snowshoe chase, 45-year-old Troy James Knapp's run came to an end Tuesday.
"He threw his rifle down and told the deputies, 'Good job, you got me," Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis told ABCNews.com.
The 50-man operation, involving resources from multiple counties, was put into place after two hunters reported meeting a suspicious man on a narrow trail last Friday.
The man did not identify himself, Curtis said, but told them: "I'm a mountain man."
"He was asking how much snow was up the trail further," Curtis said. "Their dog was acting nervous and growling, and he said, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to shoot you guys.'"
After parting ways with the mountain man, the hunters asked a friend to send them a picture of Knapp. They confirmed it was Knapp, and alerted authorities.
The clean-shaven, gun-toting, knife-wearing mountain man had remained one step ahead of law enforcement for more than half a decade, moving around an area that spanned 1,000 square miles.
Because of this, authorities knew having a confirmed sighting was crucial to apprehending Knapp, so they immediately began tracking him, Curtis said.
Over the Easter weekend, authorities followed Knapp's tracks in the snow and saw they were heading toward Sanpete County.
On Tuesday, a team, including Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk, had narrowed down Knapp's whereabouts to one of two cabins, because they could hear him chopping wood, Curtis said.
The team went undetected until a helicopter swooped in to drop more law enforcement at the scene, prompting Knapp to fire several shots at the helicopter, Curtis said.
"He turned his rifle on Sheriff Funk and that's when [the sheriff] fired at him," Curtis said. "Didn't hit him, missed him and Knapp took off running."
Wearing a backpack and snowshoes, Knapp fled into the trees, but Curtis said deputies had him surrounded.
"He said, 'You guys were really good. I didn't hear anything until the helicopter came in,'" Curtis said.
And for a man who lived for six years cut off from society, Curtis said Knapp hadn't stopped talking.
"He's talking to us enough we're going to be able to find out where he's been," Curtis said.
When authorities asked Knapp why he had chosen to live an alleged life of crime cut off from society, Curtis said his answer was simple.
"I don't hate people," he said. "I just don't like them."
Knapp is being held in the Sanpete County Jail. Iron, Kane and Garfield counties have all issued arrest warrants for him on burglary and weapons charges, Curtis said.
While authorities said Knapp never physically harmed anyone, his lingering presence had made cabin owners fearful.
Knapp is accused of breaking into dozens of cabins, sometimes shooting up the interiors, including religious artwork. He has also left behind ominous messages, including, "Gonna put you in the ground!" and "Get off my mountain," authorities said.
Authorities were able to identify Knapp last year by using fingerprints from the glass window of a 2009 cabin burglary. They found a match in their criminal database, tying the prints to Knapp from an arrest for theft in California in 2000, the Iron County Sheriff's Office said last year.
Images of Knapp are rare. But police were able to double-check that they had their man by matching an old mugshot of Knapp, who has distinctive tattoos, to images of a man caught on a wildlife camera after a burglary.
Before his arrest, the last confirmed sighting of Knapp was captured on Oct. 1, 2012, by a surveillance camera in Sanpete County.
"It's really nice to know we don't have the stress of worrying where is he going to strike next," Curtis said. "There's a lot of country."