Elusive 'Mountain Man' arrested after allegedly firing at helicopter

Father, son describe 'scary' encounter with elusive gunman

Published: Tuesday, April 2 2013 11:15 a.m. MDT

Troy James Knapp, known as the "Mountain Man," was captured in the Ferron Reservoir area on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.

Sgt. Dusty Butler, Emery County Sheriff's Office

MANTI — Notorious fugitive Troy James Knapp, known by many simply as "the Mountain Man," was arrested Tuesday after allegedly terrorizing Utah cabin owners for more than seven years.

The heavily armed Knapp fired 10 to 15 shots at a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter and tried to run into the wilderness but quickly found himself outnumbered by 40 law enforcers on the ground and "severely outgunned," said Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson.

"He attempted to flee, ran into more of our officers, was out-forced, and surrendered," he said. "The public and all of us are safer tonight because of it."

Knapp, 45, was taken into custody just after 10 a.m. near Ferron Reservoir. But the operation began about 72 hours earlier after law enforcement received a tip from two people who were out hunting for shed antlers that Knapp had been spotted. Officers from at least seven counties, DPS, Adult Probation and Parole and the U.S. Marshal's Service all participated in the operation.

At least one shot was fired in return by law enforcement, Nielson said. No one was injured.

"Our goal going into it was that Mr. Knapp would be taken safely," he said.

After tracking Knapp since Friday, officers began moving in about 1 a.m. Knapp had allegedly broken into another cabin. He was found in a mountain area about 9,000 feet in elevation. There was still 3 ½ to 4 feet of snow on the ground and the wind was blowing Tuesday morning.

Nielson said Knapp was "very well armed," possessing a rifle and at least one handgun when he was arrested. What worked in deputies' favor was that Knapp was outside and not barricaded inside a cabin when officers approached.

Knapp was turned over to the custody of the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office.

Knapp is a survivalist who is suspected of breaking into dozens of cabins in southern and central Utah for at least seven years. He faces a total of 18 criminal charges in Iron, Kane and Garfield counties.

The break for law enforcers came Friday when Dale Fuller and his 15-year-old son, Jordon, crossed paths with Knapp while shed antler hunting. 

Just as the father and son were finishing and hiking down the Dairy Trail, they spotted a man who immediately raised red flags for them. They called out "hello" to him.

"He responded with, 'Hello, how are you guys?" Dale Fuller told the Deseret News. "He was wearing a heavier coat and he had it zipped clear up. He had a huge backpack on and he had an assault rifle, like an SKS type of a gun."

Knapp began questioning the two about where they had been, how much snow was on the mountain, and whether they had seen anyone else in the area.

"One of our Labs was just growling the whole time," Fuller said. "When the dog's hair went up, that's when mine went up. … I mean it's scary, especially when you've got your son with you."

Jordon agreed it was obvious his dog didn't like Knapp. "Usually after you hit him on the nose, he'll stop. But this time he didn't stop, he just kept growling," he said.

Concerned about the assault rifle, and not recognizing Knapp yet, the Fullers asked him what he was doing there.

"He said, 'I don't plan on shooting you guys,'" Fuller recalled. "That was nice of him."

Knapp also identified himself as the "Mountain Man" and told them that he was going camping. "I wasn't real sure at the time because of the weirdness of the whole situation if he said 'I am the Mountain Man' or 'I am a mountain man,'" Fuller said.

But after the father and son said goodbye and went on their way, Fuller started thinking about stories of the elusive Mountain Man in the area. When he finally got to an area with cellphone reception, he called a friend who is married to a deputy. The deputy then sent him photos of Knapp.

"When I got the second picture where he's walking in front of the cabin, and he's kind of scruffy — he was scruffy when he talked to him — that picture, there was no question whatsoever. It was him."

Fuller called the sheriff's office, and within 45 minutes, deputies began tracking Knapp.

"I think it was fairly quick that our Emery County sheriff got on his track and knew where he was at," he said.

The area where Knapp was found is currently closed to regular vehicles. Nielson said law enforcers used snowmobiles, Snowcats and a helicopter to get to the area.

On Saturday, the Emery County Sheriff's Office responded to a burglary in the Reeder subdivision of Joe's Valley Reservoir. A second burglary was reported the next day. This time, weapons were taken. Funk said the burglary was similar to methods Knapp had allegedly used in previous crimes.

On Monday, county, state and federal officials met to map out a plan to go into the Ferron Reservoir area, Funk said.

Nielson gave high praise Tuesday to all police agencies that participated, with special thanks to DPS and Emery County, which he said did a lot of the leg work.

Knapp's identity was revealed a year ago thanks to a photograph taken by a wildlife camera and fingerprints. He was subsequently charged and an arrest warrant issued in Iron County's 5th District Court. He is typically seen wearing camouflage and has a rifle strapped over his shoulder.

For years, Knapp is believed to have broken into summer cabins during the winter, living off whatever supplies were inside, and then living in remote mountainous areas during the summer. In his summer campsites discovered by law enforcers, they have found high-end camping gear stolen from cabins as well as numerous firearms.

Police say Knapp left threatening messages for law enforcers in cabins that he is accused of breaking into, such as: "Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain." They say he has also shot up the inside of some cabins, and taken aim in particular at religious-themed artwork.

He is believed to have spent most of last summer in the Fish Lake area of Sevier County. In October, more than 40 officers from Sevier, Sanpete, Iron and Box Elder counties as well as the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team searched an area of Sevier County where Knapp was last seen, but they could not find the elusive fugitive.

In Garfield County, Sheriff Danny Perkins said the cabin break-ins began about 2005. Although Knapp has only been charged with three burglaries in Garfield, Perkins said he is a suspect in 20 to 30 break-ins.

"We're happy, we're relieved (he's been arrested). I think everyone in the law enforcement community that has had problems with Mr. Knapp regarding the burglaries that he's committed in our areas, were really worried about public safety and officer safety," Perkins said, adding that he was "looking forward to meeting with him."

In 1986, Knapp was incarcerated in Michigan for convictions of breaking and entering and receiving stolen property, according to court records. Knapp briefly had a listing of a Salt Lake address in 1999. He reportedly has family living in Michigan and Moscow, Idaho. His Idaho home was listed in public documents as his primary residence as recently as November of 2011, but authorities don't believe he has actually lived in Idaho for many years. He is believed to have lived in northern California before moving to Salt Lake City and then dropping off the radar.

In 5th District Court in Iron County, Knapp is facing four counts of burglary, a second-degree felony; theft, a second-degree felony; and three counts of theft, a class B misdemeanor — all charges for incidents spanning June 2009 through September of 2011.

In 6th District Court, he is facing six charges out of Garfield County, including four counts of burglary, a second-degree felony; and two counts theft, a class B misdemeanor, for incidents between February and June 2012. In Kane County, Knapp has been charged with aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony; two counts of burglary, a third-degree felony; and purchase, transfer or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony, stemming from a December 2011 incident.

E-mail: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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