A homicide suspect who used bed sheets to escape from a northwestern Pennsylvania jail is likely still in the area and someone may be helping him to evade capture, police said after discovering possible campsites in nearby woods.
Michael Burham, 34, fled the Warren County Prison late Thursday by climbing on exercise equipment, climbing through a window and down a rope fashioned from jail bedding, authorities said. Burham was being held on $1 million bail and was charged with kidnapping, burglary and other counts.
“We have located small stockpiles or campsites in wooded areas in the general vicinity of Warren, and we believe that at least some of those may be associated with Burham,” Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police told reporters Sunday afternoon at Youngsville Fire Hall.
Bivens said Monday that the stockpiles consisted of “supplies that would assist him with a prolonged stay in a wooded area.” He declined to be more specific but said investigators suspect someone is helping Burham.
“We do believe he is getting some assistance, from where or what that type of assistance is, I’m not prepared to comment on,” Bivens said, repeating an earlier warning that authorities would “prosecute anyone who does offer him assistance.”
District Attorney Jason Schmidt of Chautauqua County, New York, said last month that Burham is the prime suspect in the May 11 killing of Kala Hodgkin, 34, and a related arson in Jamestown, New York. Authorities also accuse him of abducting an elderly couple in Pennsylvania while trying to evade capture before his arrest in South Carolina. Warren city police said Burham “is considered very dangerous.”
Local, multistate and federal authorities have searched numerous residences, abandoned structures and wooded areas using K-9 units and aerial resources such as drones and aircraft, authorities said.
Bivens said officials “have no reason to believe he has left the area,” but that authorities are “constantly re-evaluating” that conclusion.
Bivens told WGRZ-TV that Burham taught himself survival skills and had military reserve training. He said authorities were searching a very large area with a lot of difficult terrain that has cabins, oil and gas sheds, and shacks that could offer a fugitive a place to hide.
The city of Warren announced that its playground program would be closed Monday due to the search, and the county school district said all summer programming at Beaty Warren Middle School would be canceled, including summer food service and meal prep at all city playground sites.
State police urged residents to be vigilant and keep doors and windows locked. Bivens urged them to secure food, clothes, vehicles or even weapons that he could take.
The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $7,500 reward for information leading to Burham’s capture, and Crime Stoppers was offering $2,000, Bivens said.
“Anyone in this situation becomes more desperate over time, and we plan to use that to our advantage,” Bivens said, adding that “if he’s out here in the woods, we’ll continue to push hard. He’s not going to be able to get a lot of rest. We’re going to push hard until we find him.”
Warren County Sheriff Brian Zeybel told WKBW-TV that he doesn’t believe Burham is “a master of this game” but probably is able to tolerate “a little more discomfort than you or I.” He echoed the state police’s call for residents to keep themselves safe and to prevent Burham from gaining help or refuge.
“There’s probably houses in this wonderful, beautiful community that the doors haven’t been locked in 40 years, maybe 50 years,” he said. “People leave keys in their car when they pump gas, stuff like that. Hometown rural America. But unfortunately people exploit that. And I don’t want to make it easy for this man to get a car, to get a firearm especially, and/or just have shelter in a basement or an unlocked shed or something like that.”