After vacation and eight days out of the country, I returned to work only to forget how to pronounce accused cop killer and fugitive Eric Frein's last name. Is it Frein that rhymes with clean or Frein that rhymes with train?
In the beginning of the hunt, one Pennsylvania state trooper said "Freen." Another said "Frane." Yet another instructed me to return to saying "Freen."
Then I forgot altogether - a bad sign to be sure.
I soon realized that I'm not the only person to grow distance between then and now.
Back then the whole world went on alert for the 31-year-old self-styled survivalist and point blank madman marksman who police say assassinated one state trooper and severely wounded another from the shadowed cover of a night-time tree line.
A thousand cops, including state police and special assault units of the FBI and ATF, scoured the mountains near the Blooming Grove barracks where the deadly attack took place.
Frein's parents were cooperating, police said. Frein's history buff war re-enactment buddies were cooperating, police said. The sane world was cooperating, police said.
But the search came up empty. Sightings came and went as skeptics poked holes in the odds that the hunt would prove successful. Critics started questioning the wisdom of spending what some accounts put at a million dollars a day. Conspiracy theorists railed about their hatred for cops and love of militia bunkers far away.
Eric Frein remains at large. What police call a credible sighting took place as recently as yesterday. Just a few days earlier a woman walking her dog told police that she saw a man with a rifle, a scope and a mud-covered face in the area near where Frein attended high school. With what she estimated to be just 15 to 20 feet between them, the man made no aggressive move toward her.
Again, the mystery man just disappeared.
Five weeks? Alone and on the run? A three day head start before a man walking his dog discovered his Jeep and identified Frein by documents he - or somebody - left behind? A camp with equipment and food discovered in the woods? A journal with an entry about making the shot and how fast the officer fell? Pipe bombs? Ammo? An AK-4? Soiled diapers? An empty pack of Serbian cigarettes
Yes, it appears that Frein is in the search area and that police have him isolated. Evidence seems to support what police believe, and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must give police the benefit of the doubt.
"PSP Strong" supporters buy thousands of gray t-shirts, local bars run too many alcohol-fueled fundraisers and bikers don their cut-off vests and raise their fists in triumph because they have shown support for the victims.
But Frein, if alive, gets the last laugh. For now. Maybe forever.
I hope we get him – dead or alive, whatever harsh circumstances dictate. But maybe we will always come up empty. If that happens, what lessons do we take from this tragedy? I don't know the answers to that question. Neither do you, police, living victims or even future cop killers. Nobody knows.
This dismal, violent mystery seems like a modern curse. Yet, we must continue to remember, to hunt with a commitment greater than the dark hunt that tore our soldier of the law from his colorful fabric of family and friends. The frantic attack still impacts us all. And we must remain aware and sensitive. We must refuse to get distracted or bored or tired of our responsibility to helping resolve this madness.
This is life and death as real as it gets. Never forget that we have our lives to live and must make the most of them. Because Bryon Dickson lost his life, we must promise to keep his spirit alive and powerful in ours. Refuse to let the hunt grow distant.
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