Law enforcement still searching for Montana militiaman who disap - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Law enforcement still searching for Montana militiaman who disappeared into the woods

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MISSOULA, Mont. -

David Earl Burgert, Jr. is a familiar foe to law enforcement. He led Project 7 -- an anti-government militia in Flathead County.

In 2001, he was accused of plotting to assassinate local authorities and stockpiling weapons and ammunition, including a machine gun. He eluded police by staging his own death and fled into the forest near Kalispell, Montana. He was arrested in 2002 following a shootout with the FBI and police. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Burgert was paroled in 2010, and it wasn't long before law enforcement was on his trail again. He led officers on a chase outside Lolo, Montana, then seemingly disappeared into the forest.

Longtime Lolo resident Steve Bayha often takes his family to Fort Fizzle, a picnic site along the Lolo Trail. "I feel that it's a pretty good community, where people have their eyes open," he said.

Some still keeping an eye on the woods, where the wanted militia man disappeared nearly six years ago.

"I was actually quite keen on meeting him for a long time," said Will Newsom.

Newsom is a retired Missoula County Sheriff's deputy. He says he has an unfinished conversation with Burgert. "The last conversation we had, we were shooting at each other," he said.

The initial call was not out of the ordinary: Newsom was called to check on a person who was camping in the area illegally. But the situation escalated quickly. Newsom could tell Burgert was taking him away from backup, and away from help.

"This was going to be a gunfight," Newsom said.

During the shooting, Burgert was hunkered down on the side of a Jeep and bullets from deputies were flying in the opposite direction. Following the shooting, when deputies walked around the Jeep, nothing was there.

"That made the hair on the back of my neck stand up," Newsom said. "Because I had just been shot at, and I just realized that I have no idea where this guy is."

After an all-out manhunt by local, state and federal authorities, detectives turned up virtually nothing. Burgert's Jeep Cherokee, with tires popped, was still impounded.

"We did not find any blood or traces of blood in the area," said Det. Lt. Robert Kennedy with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

No blood indicating he was shot. No body indicating he is dead. But there was one clue -- a clue that could indicate Burgert was ready to live off the land for as long as he needed.

"We did locate one cache that we thought belonged to him. There was some clothing in a box with some other survival type items," said Det. Kennedy.

Knowing he had skills necessary to survive in the back country, and without any fresh leads, law enforcement is left to speculate.

"There are several theories, at least a couple of theories, that he is dead, up in the hills where the shooting took place. There are several theories that he might still be alive and that he escaped during that initial search for him," Det. Kennedy said. "David Burgert is a person that will come out eventually if he is alive and surface in the public eye."

Whether alive or dead, "David Burgert is somewhere, whether he's alive or dead, he's somewhere," said Det. Kennedy.

Meanwhile Bayha takes comfort in theories that if Burgert is still alive, he's likely moved on.

"I would say if you're trying to be gone, we keep yourself gone," Bayha said.

Burgert is no stranger to disguising himself to blend in with his surroundings. Detective Kennedy says a month before the shooting with Missoula County Sheriff's deputies, Burgert was seen purchasing a woman's wig at a Missoula cosmetic studio.

If you see Burgert, or have details on his whereabouts, you're asked to call law enforcement immediately.

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