03/29/2004

Two Deputies Are Shot to Death in Pennsylvania

Officer Down: Michael VanKuren & Christopher M. Burgert - [MILLERTON, Pennsylvania]

MILLERTON, Pa. (AP) - Two sheriff's deputies were fatally shot Wednesday March 31, while serving a warrant for a minor offense at a junkyard in rural Pennsylvania, authorities said.

Authorities were hunting for the suspect who got away, identified on wanted posters as Dustin F. Briggs, 27.

The shootings happened at Briggs' junkyard in Wells Township, a rural farming community about 10 miles southwest of Elmira, N.Y., said Walt Beach, the police chief in neighboring Lawrenceville.

Police described Briggs as armed and dangerous. They set up roadblocks in the area, stopping every car that passed. Schools were also locked down.

Briggs had been wanted on a warrant for failing to appear in court and was previously convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, a felony.

"He's well-known to law enforcement all throughout this area," state police Trooper Tom Kelly said. "He's not afraid of authority in any way, shape or form."

Police took into custody two relatives of Briggs' who were at the scene of the shootings. One relative called 911 to alert authorities, Kelly said.

A female acquaintance of Briggs was also in custody, but it was unclear how she was involved. Police were also searching for a male acquaintance.

The slain deputies were identified as 36-year-old Michael VanKuren and 30-year-old Christopher M. Burgert. Both were wearing bullet-resistant vests, and a gun belonging to one of them was missing.

The shootings startled residents in quiet Bradford County, a farming region dotted with red barns and grazing cattle. Mike Powers, mayor of the nearby community of Troy, said residents "still keep our keys in the ignition and our doors unlocked at night."
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