BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — The suspect accused of shooting and killing three men in Morgan County on Monday had statements on his social media account indicating he hated authority and was extremely dissatisfied with the country.
Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh says Erick Shute, 32, used a military grade assault rifle to kill Jack Douglas, 49; William Bartley, 53; and Travis Bartley, 24. The gun was a custom AR type “bull-pup” design with armor piercing .223 ammunition and military-grade attachments, the sheriff said.
According to Shambaugh, Shute claimed to be a sovereign citizen and had no faith in the federal government or local law enforcement.
Shute had helped construct a fenced-in compound on his property in the mountains of Morgan County, which neighbored the victims’ property. Shute lived on several acres with his stepfather and a woman who claimed to be his mother. His stepfather, named Jeff, is a person of interest, Shambaugh said. As of this time, investigators have been unable to reach him.
The compound is located on Gamble Road, a gravel route twisting through the mountains near Morgan County’s town of Great Cacapon. The property is isolated by miles of forests and rough terrain and was encased with 5-foot tall metal wiring. The only entrance is guarded by a large metal gate.
The compound is completely self-sufficient, Shambaugh said. It has about seven structures, mostly mobile home vehicles but also stationary sheds and other small structures for storage of supplies, ammunition, weapons, a generator and a water purifier. The compound also has livestock. Several chickens are visible from the public road and Shute is alleged to have several other types of animals.
Police attempted to search the property Monday night but Shute had bragged to neighbors about rigging the multi-acre property with Claymore mines for defense. The female resident of the property claimed this was not true. The threat of booby-traps halted the search as night set in, Shambaugh said.
Shute may have attempted to set up perimiter defenses because he believed his neighbors were infringing upon his rights, Shambaugh said.
According to Shambaugh, on the day of the incident and prior to the shooting, the brake line on Shute’s truck malfunctioned and he had blamed the victims. As neighbors, he and the victims had prior history of feuding and local police were called several times in the past, the sheriff said.
Shute accused the victims of stealing from him and violating his property rights but “nothing ever tangible was able to pin the victims” with alleged wrongs to Shute, according to Shambaugh.
The shooting took place at about 4:30 on Monday on property associated with the Bartley family adjacent to Shute’s property, Shambaugh said.
After the shooting, police from three states engaged in a massive search using land and air vehicles. A Morgan County deputy was eventually able to make contact with the suspect by calling his cellphone. The phone conversation lasted approximately 20 minutes and allowed law enforcement to “ping” the phone to the New Jersey Turnpike.
Shute, originally from Penns Grove Borough, New Jersey, was apprehended in Chester county, Pennsylvania. It is unclear at this time whether he was apprehended from a traffic stop or if he turned himself in.
Shute is not fighting extradition back to Morgan County and belives himself completely justified, Shambaugh said. According to Shute’s Facebook page, he said “This was self defense…. I have nothing to hide.” Shute continued, “These guys stole over $20,000 pf oir (sic) stuff and sold it for drugs and threatened me to my face before. They even unacrewed (sic) my brake line while (I) was asleep.”
The Morgan County Sheriff Department executed a search warrant of the property on Tuesday afternoon.