With guns drawn, Yellowstone National Park law enforcement officers stopped two visitors on Tuesday morning, believing they might be wanted fugitives and suspected murderers. But it turned out to be …
With guns drawn, Yellowstone National Park law enforcement officers stopped two visitors on Tuesday morning, believing they might be wanted fugitives and suspected murderers. But it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
Park officials shut down Yellowstone’s East Entrance and stopped traffic near Sedge Bay after receiving a tip that Blane and Susan Barksdale may have passed through the gate. A manhunt has been underway for the Barksdales since late last month, when they overpowered guards and escaped from custody. At the time of their getaway, the couple was being transported to Arizona, where they face charges that include murder.
Believing that the Barksdales might be in Yellowstone, a large contingent of Park Service officers pulled over a gray Ford pickup with Illinois license plates around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
A witness at the scene said several park officers — carrying tactical weapons and wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests — blocked the vehicle near Sedge Bay.
“Park law enforcement conducted a high risk traffic stop of a vehicle after a neighboring agency alerted us to potential fugitives,” said Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress.
However, “in the end, the occupants of the vehicle were not the suspects,” Veress said.
The suspects were detained in handcuffs at 9:15 a.m., but it wasn’t long before the officers realized that the visitors, on closer inspection, did not match the description of the wanted fugitives.
“The incident ended safely for all involved,” Veress said.
Cody resident Ross Gorman — who went to Yellowstone Tuesday to photograph elk and bears — wound up getting caught in a pullout near the traffic stop. While surprised by the show of force, Gorman said he was glad to see the Park Service is well prepared.
“Today is Sept. 11; in this day and age you need to be prepared for the worst,” Gorman said Wednesday.
The couple actually being sought by law enforcement — Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59 — wound up being caught in Navajo County, Arizona, Wendesday night.
Tucson, Arizona, police had been seeking the Barksdales on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, arson, criminal damage and auto theft in connection with an April home explosion. The resident of the home, 72-year-old Frank Bligh, hasn’t been seen since and is presumed dead.
Evidence found at Bligh’s residence led Tucson detectives to conclude the fire was intentionally set — and they believe more than 100 firearms were stolen from the home.
The Barksdales were taken into custody in New York, but they escaped in Utah on Aug. 26 while being transported by law enforcement to Arizona. They reportedly faked an emergency, overpowered two security officers and kidnapped them and another inmate before leaving them tied up in a prison transport van in Arizona.
They’re facing additional charges in connection with that escape, while the U.S. Marshals Service named Blane Barksdale to its Top 15 Most Wanted List.
“I urge the public not to be deceived by the physical appearance of the Barksdales,” U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said in a Monday statement. “While they may look friendly, both have demonstrated a propensity for violence and should be considered armed and dangerous. The couple’s alleged blatant disregard for human life and the law have made them both a priority for us.”
Washington had predicted that the Barksdales would be caught.