Erick Shute, a suspect in the shooting deaths of three men whose bodies were discovered yesterday afternoon in Morgan County, is no stranger to controversy – or even run-ins with the law.
Shute, 32, had law enforcement guessing – and area residents panicking – about his whereabouts for hours after the men’s bodies were discovered near the rural community of Great Cacapon.
The shooting victims include Jack Douglas of Great Cacapon, Travis Bartley and Willie Bartley, both of Hedgesville.
Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh said the deaths may have stemmed from a property dispute, although the investigation is ongoing and no charges have yet been filed against Shute.
He said authorities located the bodies on “property adjacent to the accused shooter’s on Gamble Lane.”
An assault weapon was used in the killings, and the cause of death for the three men was gunshot wounds from a .223 caliber AR- 15 rifle, he said.
Locating the bodies was only the beginning of a long night for law enforcement.
Even as the local search continued into the night, Shute was already out of state and thought to be traveling to his former hometown of Pennsville, New Jersey, where police issued an online statement at about 11 p.m. indicating he was being sought for the triple murders.
The massive manhunt ended early this morning when Pennsylvania State Police captured and took him into custody in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
A screengrab of a private Facebook post by Shute proclaimed his innocence, though the post’s authenticity could not be verified.
Calls to his cell phone number (which was also available on another social media site) went to voicemail, and were not returned.
West Virginia State Police, assisted by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, originally converged on the area en masse early yesterday evening to search for him and the white Chevrolet Silverado truck he was reportedly driving.
Several hours later, however, it was reported that state police had spoken with him via cell phone and determined he was traveling in New Jersey.
Local search activities were terminated at approximately 10 p.m., according to the Eastern Panhandle Working Fires Facebook site which logged hundreds of comments during the nearly four hours of monitoring this police activity.
Shute, who is believed to have moved to Great Cacapon two years ago, had a troubled past prior to that time, according to official records.
He was indicted by a grand jury on charges of fourth-degree aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer, and third-degree resisting arrest.
A jury was unable to reach a verdict on the assault charge, but convicted him of resisting arrest.
The charges stemmed from his March 2011 visit to the Pennsville Police Department seeking to gain permission to operate his vehicle without meeting state licensing and registration requirements.
When he was leaving the station, a patrolman saw that his car had a “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker instead of a license plate. He also determined that Shute was driving on a revoked license. After he continued to refuse to cooperate, the officer attempted to place him under arrest and reached through the car window to unlock the door. At that time, he reportedly raised the window on the officer’s arm.
While living in Salem County, New Jersey, in 2009, Shute ignited a controversy by hanging an American flag upside down as a “signal of distress” protesting many federal policies, including the Affordable Care Act, increased taxes and a too-powerful Federal Reserve.
But veterans objected to it as disrespectful, and he later removed the flag.
A September 2013 YouTube video is aimed at the federal Internal Revenue Service, which he termed “the most belligerent group of thugs I’ve ever seen.”
His Facebook page, which includes the words “Anarch E” beside his name, is littered with references to police corruption, brutality and his dislike for law enforcement.
Another post urges others to “download the Anarchist Cookbook while you can.” Originally published in 1971, this volume has been criticized for providing information on how to use everything from explosives to drugs for violent purposes. It contained sections on converting a shotgun into a grenade launcher and how to make TNT, among others.
Several posts also rail against the administering of vaccines, with one claiming “This is the agenda to kill off millions of people.” He also writes about new research showing that vaccine damages may be to blame for some “shaken-baby syndrome” deaths rather than physical abuse by parents.
After Shute’s name surfaced as a possible suspect, several other Facebook users expressed surprise and one even posted an online plea for him to surrender to law enforcement.
“Erick Shute please stop…turn yourself in, and please stop,” it reads.