Sheriff's deputies sweep rental cabin
David Burgert, a former Marine, previously told police 'he wasn't going to be taken down'MISSOULA, Mont. — Federal and state agents are searching a 30-square-mile swath of rugged Montana forest for a former militia leader following a shootout with sheriff's deputies, authorities said.David Burgert, 47, exchanged gunfire with Missoula County sheriff's deputies along a logging trail Sunday after a slow-speed chase near Lolo, officials said. No one was hurt.
Burgert grabbed gear from his Jeep and fled on foot into the woods, Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick said.
Known for his anti-government sentiments, Burgert previously told police "he wasn't going to be taken down like last time," Dominick said.
The former Marine may have planned the attack, Dominick told The Associated Press Monday. Officials believe he may have placed caches of food and weapons along his planned escape route.
Authorities found ammunition packed inside the Jeep's engine compartment and in another vehicle associated with Burgert, as well as two stolen rifles and a magazine of handgun ammunition on the ground near where he fled, Dominick said.
"He was prepared for a confrontation," Dominick said. "It was not a high-speed chase, he drove purposely onto the logging road and he engaged the deputies with one to three shots."
He described Burgert as a survivalist who is no stranger to the backwoods and who may be in possession of a third vehicle, possibly a tan or red Jeep model.
Authorities seized two of three vehicles registered to Burgert, including the Jeep Cherokee loaded with rifles that he abandoned Sunday, but suspect he may have stashed the other vehicle in the Lolo National Forest, Dominick said.
"He is armed and extremely dangerous," Dominick told Reuters.
Residents who live near the search area told CBS affiliate KPAX they've been keeping watch for Burgert.
"I went ahead and locked down, made sure my kids were in the house, made sure my dogs were outside so they could bark," Terry Gregory told the affiliate. "It's kind of a scary situation."
But one resident said he still felt safe.
"I'm not really too worried about it," Thomas Arnone said. "A. I have two really big dogs. B. I have a shotgun and so that always helps. And then with the amount of bears and wildlife that're up on that mountain, wolves, coyotes; he's not gonna be there too long."
Tactical agents from the FBI and agents from U.S. Marshals Service, Missoula police, Missoula County sheriff's officers, as well as law officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Montana National Guard were looking for Burgert in a rugged, sparsely populated area of the forest, Dominick said.
A National Guard helicopter and a police dog were brought in to assist the searchers, totaling 65 personnel in all.
Paranoid personality disorder
The incident began on Sunday when deputies responded to a report that the operator of a Jeep Cherokee registered to Burgert was driving erratically at a rest stop near Lolo, Dominick said. Lolo is about 10 miles southwest of Missoula.
When patrol cars arrived the driver, later identified as Burgert, allegedly ran a stop sign as the vehicle turned onto a roadway.
Dominick said officers pursued Burgert for 30 miles before he spun onto a side road near a trailhead. The former militia leader allegedly responded to commands that he surrender by shooting at deputies before disappearing into the forest.
Burgert is the former leader of a Flathead County militia group known as Project 7, named for the number "7" on Flathead County license plates in Montana. Project 7 allegedly plotted to assassinate local officials, go to war with the National Guard and overthrow the federal government.
Burgert served time in federal prison on weapons charges before being released on probation. Before his sentencing, he was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder.
Last week, he was stopped by the Montana Highway Patrol for a moving violation. He told patrolmen then "he wasn't going to be taken down like last time" and that "it would take a SWAT team" to bring him in, Dominick said.
'Danger to anyone he meets'
Burgert is described as 6 feet 2 inches tall and 230 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a bluish-colored shirt and a fanny pack and is believed to be armed with a handgun and possibly a rifle.
"He's a danger to anyone he meets," Dominick said.
In July 2004, Burgert pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess illegal firearms, possession of a machine gun and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Federal prosecutors argued he led a group that amassed machine guns and explosives. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Burgert had been arrested in February 2002 after a standoff and a chase. He had a machine gun when he was arrested, and authorities found thousands of rounds of ammunition and homemade explosives while searching sites associated with Project 7.
At the time, officials in Flathead County in far northwestern Montana said that Project 7 also conspired to kill local police officers, judges and county prosecutors.
NBC station KCFW reported that authorities in 2002 discovered a hit list of government officials who Burgert hoped to assassinate.
The Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.