GREAT CACAPON, W.Va. — Pennsylvania police arrested a man early Tuesday in connection with a triple homicide that took place near Great Cacapon in Morgan County, W.Va., on Monday afternoon.
Police made the arrest in Pennsylvania with the help of Morgan County deputies and West Virginia state police. Reports identified the alleged shooter as Erick Shute, 32, of Great Cacapon, but formerly of Pennsville, N.J.
A 911 call dispatched the sheriff’s department to Valley High Timber Farm around 4:45 p.m. Monday. Deputies responded on high alert fearing there was an active shooter at the scene. The shooter had fled as deputies discovered three bodies—all dead of gunshot wounds.
Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh identified Shute to MetroNews as a the shooter. The sheriff said Shute maintained he was a “sovereign citizen” and had filed a number of complaints against the victims, including property disputes.
“There has been a history, but we’ve not been able to substantiate anything as far as putting any charges on the deceased because of these allegations,” said Shambaugh. “Our deputies have been up there several times in the past six months to a year, but it was never anything that required any action until this.”
The victims were shot dead while clearing wood and debris from the roadway adjacent to Shute’s property. Shambaugh said Shute ambushed the men with a rifle from a wooded area nearby.
The victims are identified as Travis Bartley, 24, his father William Bartley, 53, both of Hedgesville, and Jack Douglas of Great Cacapon. Shambaugh identified Douglas as the father of Travis Bartley’s wife/girlfriend with whom he has a young child.
Another would-be victim fled the scene and was not injured, though Shambaugh did not release the fourth person’s name, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation.
“They were all staying up there with Jack who lives just down the road from where this happened. They all worked together,” said Shambugh. “I saw all three of them together earlier in the day at a gas station in Berkeley Springs. It’s a small community.”
The sheriff said the property is a weekend home for Shute, who also owns property in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Shute posted to social media the shooting was in self-defense. Shambaugh said he believes Shute was building a compound on the property near Great Cacapon.
“These folks, they don’t want to pay taxes. They don’t want to recognize local government. They want to build these compounds back in these places away from everybody,” said the sheriff. “They’re preparing for the end times and to be the survivors. He’s tried to recruit some locals to help him build his compound with his little group of sovereigns. He’d talked to the locals about his compound with a cache of weapons and ammunition stored there. That’s where they are all going to go in the end times.”
Shute made the following post to his Facebook page:
“This was self defense. I talked to a cop and he even agreed this was an open and shut case of self defense and they probably won’t even pursue charges. I am just waiting to talk to the prosecutor. I have nothing to hide. Media can contact me on my cell. I am open to talk. 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 brakeline while I was asleep. Everyone not on drugs on the mountain hates them. These are known thieves and drug addicts.”
The incident touched off an eight-hour manhunt in the region before Shute was located in Pennsylvania shortly after midnight Tuesday morning. He’s now in a Pennsylvania jail awaiting extradition back to West Virginia. The incident has caused unrest in the normally quiet West Virginia community.
“Whatever caused him to do it, it’s a fact he did it and created an ugly mess here in this county,” said Shambaugh. “In a community with 18,000 people we’ve never had something of that magnitude here.”
Shute is also known to New Jersey authorities. He was in the middle of a controversy in 2009 in Salem County, N.J, when he hung a flag upside down as a “signal of distress” for America. Shute claimed the government was corrupt. In 2011, he was indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on charges of attacking a police officer and resisting arrest.