Akwesasne men keeping armed watch over territory’s edge as New York State manhunt continues
AKWESASNE— Armed with shotguns and AR-15s, a group of about five men from Akwesasne searched through swamp and thick bush on the edge of the territory Saturday for an escaped murderer who has been on the run from authorities for three weeks.
The camouflage-clad men, known as “Land Defenders,” were acting on a tip from the community that a white male had been spotted entering the woods in an area known as the “Al Capone bootleg trail” because it was used to smuggle booze during the prohibition area.
Roger Jock, who led the four-hour search, said the ongoing manhunt for the escaped inmate was beginning to put people in Akwesasne on edge.
“We have been watching and listening to this unfolding,” said Jock. “A lot of people here are on edge.”
New York State and U.S. federal authorities continued to focus their search on an area about 16 kilometres south of Malone, NY., which sits about 40 kilometres south-east of the U.S.-side of the Akwesasne Mohawk territory. Akwesasne straddles the Canada-U.S. border and is about 120 kilometres west of Montreal.
State and federal authorities have established a 35 square-kilometre perimeter around the area they believe still contains David Sweat, one of two men who escaped the Clinton Correctional prison on June. 6. About 1,200 state and federal law enforcement officers are involved in the manhunt.
Sweat’s partner in the escape, convicted murderer Richard Matt, was shot and killed by a U.S. Border agent Friday. Matt was holding a shotgun when he was gunned down.
St. Regis Mohawk police chief Matthew Rourke said in an interview with APTN National News Friday that the hunt for the escaped inmate is still too far away from the community to put his force on alert.
“They are still a good (40 kilometres) away from where we are, if not farther away,” said Rourke. “We are aware of the situation and we will provide whatever assistance as required.”
Jock said he believes Sweat had likely slipped through the police perimeter.
New York State police said earlier this past week that investigators believed the escaped men were headed to Canada. Jock said he grew concerned the men could end up in Akwesasne and put out a call for eyes on the edge of the territory.
Jock also got in touch with Duane Chapman, also known as Dog the Bounty Hunter, who is now in Malone.
Chapman was in sporadic contact with Charles Kader, an Akwesasne journalist, during the day. At one point Chapman texted, “go, go, go” after Kader sent him a photo of Jock and his crew searching through the bush.
The search crew waded through swamp and dense brush while swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes.
Jerry Jock joined the search out of concern for his family.
“It’s basically about protecting our people,” said Jock, as he sat at the back of a pick-up truck with an AR-15 next to him. “My kids are down the road over there.”
Bryan King said he trekked through swamp and bush for the same reason.
“I live up the road too,” said King, who carried a shotgun during the search. “We’re basically all family.”
Roger Jock said it is up to the men to protect the community and he said words have little meaning without action.
“If we can’t protect our people, then we’ll let someone else do it,” he said. “But I am a strong believer in protecting our own.”
Later in the evening, Jock received a request to check an area around a large garage at the end of a bush trail. He and a relative, with their semi-automatic long-guns in hand, slowly walked around the building and peered between rusting cars and trucks for any signs of an unwanted visitor.
“The plan is to make sure we don’t take any rumours of sightings lightly,” said Jock. “It’s our responsibility.”