HELENA – The trail has gone cold more than a month after a former militia leader disappeared into western Montana woods after a shootout with police, though authorities vow to nab David Burgert if and when he eventually resurfaces.
Missoula County authorities said they are no longer actively pursuing Burgert, 47, who led deputies on a low-speed chase June 12 near Lolo, then shot at them before running into the woods.
Officers are now hoping a tip or a lead comes in that will help them pinpoint Burgert’s location, Undersheriff Michael Dominick said.
There is nothing to indicate Burgert is still in the area of the Lolo National Forest, although residents are well-versed in keeping an eye out for him, Dominick said Wednesday.
“He’s going to surface somewhere,” Dominick said. “We’re not going to forget about this.”
Authorities called off the search more than two weeks ago after dozens of officers and cadaver-sniffing dogs spent two luckless weeks fanned out across in the woods near the Idaho border.
Burgert has survivalist training and authorities believe he has relied on secret stashes of food, weapons and even vehicles to stay hidden.
“He’s been out in the woods for a number of months in the past without being noticed before,” Dominick said.
Burgert, a former Marine diagnosed with a paranoid personality disorder, once led a northwestern Montana anti-government militia called Project 7. He was convicted in 2003 of illegally possessing a machine gun and spent eight years in federal prison before being released in March 2010.
Prior to the shootout, Burgert reportedly had been living in his vehicle at picnic sites and campgrounds along U.S. Highway 12. That’s where the chase began, after deputies went to check on a vehicle that was reported parked for some time at a picnic spot.
Burgert eventually stopped on a logging road and shot at the deputies, who returned fire before he grabbed gear from his Jeep and ran into the woods. No one was hurt.
Even though the leads have dried up, Dominick said he is confident they will eventually catch up to Burgert. Dominick compared this case to the pursuit of a suspect who shot a Missoula County officer in the 1990s. It took three years, but authorities eventually apprehended the suspect.
“We do have a long memory,” Dominick said.
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