Greencastle’s ‘Rony’ helped in Poconos search for cop-killer

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Rony and Keith Russell spent a week searching for Eric Frein in the rugged terrain of the Poconos area. Russell volunteered for the massive manhunt out of loyalty to his fellow officers, and because resources were running dry in the search for the FBI Most Wanted suspect.

Residents in northeast Pennsylvania are breathing easier these days. The manhunt for cop-killer Eric Frein ended Oct. 30. He had been on the run since gunning down state police officers Corporal Bryon Dickson II and Trooper Alex Douglass on Sept. 14. They were walking into their Blooming Grove barracks when they were ambushed. Dickson died and Douglass was critically wounded.

As many as 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers searched for Frein over the next 48 days. Two were from Greencastle.

Keith Russell and his canine partner Rony went to the Poconos Oct. 14-19.

Russell asked Greencastle police chief John Phillippy for permission to assist law enforcement. Not that any arguments were necessary, but he used Phillippy’s own line, “If a cop needs help, a cop gets help.” And another from the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, “One team, one fight.”

Borough council also approved Greencastle representation in the search for Frein, who was hiding in the wooded area using survivalist skills. The borough paid for one shift and the rest of the time was voluntary for Russell.

The police officer was motivated because he had something to offer that most departments could not. Rony.

Pennsylvania State Police does not have patrol dogs, only those used for bomb and narcotics searches. Municipalities typically did not have K-9s either. A few other search dogs were brought in from Harrisburg and Connecticut.

Russell and Rony worked 16 hour days, taking orders from a Connecticut State Police officer. They followed up on tips, including searching vacant houses. Some had not been lived in for many years, so the two looked for evidence that anyone had been inside.

Russell also went to the home of a resident who noticed the window of her door was cracked, and there was blood on it. They tried to track the suspect.

The pair took to the woods for four hours at a time, working with a platoon of 15 to 20 officers.

“It’s not like it is around here,” Russell said. “Those were the biggest woods I’ve ever seen. The brush was extremely dense.”

He also spent time patrolling a ski resort and nearby neighborhoods, using a thermal imaging device. When he had to return to Greencastle, he felt like he was leaving behind an unfinished job.

He is glad he went, though.

“It was our small way to give back to the troopers’ families,” Russell said. “It’s a true brotherhood.”

Frein was captured by a U. S. Marshall team at an abandoned airport and is charged with murder and attempted murder.