Deputy Michael Van Kuren
K9 Deputy Michael Van Kuren
Deputy Christopher Burgert
Deputy Michael Van Kuren, 36, of Warren Center was shot and killed along with Deputy Christopher M. Burgert, 30, of Sayre, on March 31, 2004. Both were killed trying to serve an arrest warrant in Wells Township in Northeastern Pennsylvania for failure to appear in court. When both Deputies failed to check in, Pennsylvania State Police were sent in and discovered both Deputies shot and killed. The suspect accused of killing both Deputies was arrested after a 36-hour man hunt. Dustin F. Briggs, 27, was arrested and charged while walking down a rural road and taken into custody after a tip from someone who reported seeing him. He previously committed criminal possession of a weapon, a felony, in 1998 and served more than two years in a New York State prison. He was recently charged with selling methamphetamine in Bradford County. Deputy Van Kuren had served with the Bradford County Sheriff's Department for 10 years, and is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Two Pennsylvania Deputies Killed; Police Hunt For Suspect
Bradford County shooting occurred when pair served warrants; Twin Tiers on alert
By G. JEFFREY AARON and SALLE E. RICHARDS
Gannett News Service
WELLS TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Two Bradford County sheriff's deputies were shot and killed Wednesday morning, and police were combing roads and woods near the state line Wednesday night searching for a convicted felon considered armed and dangerous.
The deputies were killed shortly after 11 a.m. while trying to serve two warrants at the Congdon Road home in Wells Township in northwestern Bradford County, said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Thomas R. Kelly of the Wyoming barracks.
One warrant was a bench warrant for Dustin F. Briggs, 27, who lives at the property and is being sought in connection with the shooting. The second warrant regarded a methamphetamine lab found at the home in July.
The bodies of deputies Michael VanKuren, 36, of Warren Center, and Christopher M. Burgert, 30, of Sayre, were found on a driveway leading to the home, Kelly said. Both deputies were wearing bulletproof vests.
Kelly said one of the deputies' guns was missing. He would not comment on where on their bodies the men had been shot or the type of gun used.
A visibly upset Bradford County Sheriff Steve Evans said late Wednesday night that this is first fatality in the sheriff's department.
Briggs was wanted on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court and was previously convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, a felony. At a press briefing, Kelly said the charge on the warrant was a misdemeanor.
The second warrant -- on the methamphetamine lab -- was for the address itself, not Briggs specifically, Kelly said.
Three members of the Briggs family were in the home when the deputies arrived to serve the warrant, Kelly said. A person in the home called 911 after the shooting. Two family members were being questioned Wednesday by police; the third, Briggs, is at large.
A female acquaintance of Briggs was in custody Wednesday night, but it was not clear what her involvement was. Other acquaintances of Briggs were being sought late Wednesday, Evans and Kelly said.
Briggs is described as white, 5 foot 8 inches tall, 230 to 240 pounds, with long hair. He has a stocky build and is thought to be on foot. Briggs has been arrested in the past on firearms and drug charges, Kelly said.
He's well-known to law enforcement all throughout this area, Kelly told The Associated Press. He has a record with drugs. He has a conviction with a gun charge. He's not afraid of authority in any way, shape or form.
Mike Powers, mayor of Troy, said Briggs tried to run over a Troy police officer about six months ago. In late 1997, he tried to pull a loaded pistol on two New York state troopers after a traffic stop, but was wrestled to the ground. Briggs served two years in state prison in Watertown, N.Y., 1998 to 2000, for a felony weapons possession charge.
Helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, police dogs and police from eight agencies in the Twin Tiers were in Wells and South Creek townships -- around Christian Hollow, Congdon, Bird Creek, Ferran and Wheeler roads -- stopping and searching cars and warnings motorists not to pick up hitchhikers.
The scene of the crime is just west of the South Creek-Wells township line in Bradford County on a rural secondary road. Police had blocked off both ends of Congdon Road.
Devon and Mary Brock, who live at the corner of Congdon and Roaring Run roads in South Creek Township, said they were in Sayre early Wednesday afternoon when their daughter, Tiffany Brock, 27, called to alert them to the manhunt in their neighborhood.
"She said we'd better come home," Mary Brock said. "I can't believe Dustin (Briggs) would do this."
She said Briggs lives with his parents at the property. Because Briggs has grown up in the area and has hunted his whole life, Devon Brock, 55, said he believes Briggs would stay close to home because he knows the woods so well.
Others who know Briggs say they are not surprised by his involvement in the incident. Lyle Voorhees, who lives on nearby Pony Hill Road, said he's known Briggs for about 20 years and said he was frequently in trouble with the law.
"He's an outlaw, but his parents are decent law-abiding people. His father spent his whole life savings trying to keep him out of trouble," Voorhees said.
The Briggs have a junkyard and several outbuildings on their property, Kelly said.
Tiffany Brock was anxiously awaiting the school bus carrying her daughter home from the elementary school in Mosherville on Wednesday afternoon.
"We're locking the doors tonight," Mary Brock said. "And our shotgun is loaded."
Sherri Packard, of Laurel Hill Road, said she heard the shots on Wednesday morning but thought someone nearby was target shooting.
"A lot of people hunt around here and they target shoot all the time," she said. Packard also said she didn't know Briggs personally but was aware of his reputation. "He's not someone I'd hang around with," she said.
Sherri Packard's husband, Bob, was returning home shortly after the shooting when his vehicle was passed by three or four unmarked police cars and about six marked cars, he said.
"I remember when we didn't have to lock our doors up here, but now we do. The people who did this have no respect for human life," Bob Packard said.
Roadblocks were set up around the region with police stopping every car and examining the inside. Many area schools were on lockdown, which meant parents had to provide photo identification to pick up their children. Evening activities, such as the annual March music concert at Edison High School, were canceled.
Wells Township is just south of Chemung County and officers from several New York departments -- Elmira Heights, Chemung County Sheriff, New York State Police, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation -- were the first on the scene. Volunteer firefighters from Millerton and Big Elm, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with Pennsylvania State Police were also at the scene. Nearly 100 officers were involved in the investigation on Wednesday.
The police agencies set up a temporary command post near an auto repair garage owned by Thomas Mott, of Congdon Road, about one-half mile from the Briggs' residence. By late afternoon, a command post was set up at the Southport Fire Department. Media were referred to the South Creek Fire Department.
Officials with the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office and the State Police in Dryden said they were aware of the alert concerning the shooting suspects, but added that the bulletin did not require any extra mobilization here.
The impact of such a tragedy does resonate on a personal level, however.
"It's a real sad situation," said Tompkins County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Bob Lampman. "It just makes you more aware of what could happen.
"You don't want to say 'it's part of the job,' because it's not," Lampman added.
As night fell, 30 police cars responded to what turned out to be a false report of a man holding a gun on a police officer at the Ridgebury Fire Department.
The deputies' deaths follows Friday's shooting death of Philadelphia court officer Joseph E. LeClaire, 53, and the wounding of two other court officers as they tried to serve a bench warrant on a man in the city's Germantown section who failed to show for his trial on rape charges.
Thursday, April 1, UPDATED: 10:20 p.m.
By Norm Jones & Rob Stewart
Accused Killer Captured in Bradford County
UPDATED: 10:45 p.m.
The man accused of killing two sheriff's deputies in Bradford County is behind bars tonight. Dustin Briggs was arraigned in Troy and then taken to the Bradford County Prison.
The manhunt for Briggs ended Thursday evening near Gillett. Police swarmed down on a wooded area not far from the house where two sheriff's deputies were shot to death Wednesday morning. Police said the break in the case came when they received a call from a person who saw Briggs walking in a wooded area not far from his home. The two talked, then the man went home and called investigators. Officers converged on that area and arrested Briggs.
Earlier Thursday, Briggs' friend, Jacob White, was found near Tunkhannock. Just before 6:00 Thursday, White told Newswatch 16 he had nothing to do with the shooting deaths of the two deputies. He was led out of the state police barracks in Tunkhannock in handcuffs. He faces drug charges stemming from an incident last year. He is not charged in connection with the killings.
Roadblocks were set up all around the area in Bradford County and into New York state. The shooting happened 15 miles north of Troy, in Wells Township, when the deputies were trying to serve a warrant.
Police believe Dustin Briggs, 27, was the shooter. Authorities said the deputies were trying to serve him with a warrant for not showing up for a court date.
The two deputies killed were Deputy Christopher Burgert, 30, of Sayre, and Deputy Michael Van Kuren, 36, of Warren Center. Burgert was the department's drug investigator. He was also an Air Force reservist. Van Kuren was the department's k-9 officer. Both men were married with children.
"We were hoping to find them together. They weren't together, but through investigative techniques, we're trying to find what he can give us on his friend Dustin," said PSP Trooper Tom Kelly Thursday afternoon. He broke the news of Jacob White's apprehension to reporters around 3:00 Thursday afternoon. He was arrested on charges he ran a methamphetamine lab.
All day, there had been a flurry of investigators in and out of the command post in the village of Fassett. Special police response teams showed up from all over northeastern and central Pennsylvania.
"As a law enforcement officer, as a trooper, when you get tired, you just dig deeper and when you know that you're searching for a guy that just shot two of your fellow officers, that little bit is enough to ignite you to keep going. So the tiredness and the weather, that doesn't even matter to us," said Trooper Kelly.
Officers stopped every driver on the New York state line. At the command post the came and went in cruisers, on all terrain vehicles and with search dogs.
Searchers fanned out in a 60 mile radius from the crime scene, even into New York. Special operations officers from both states were in and out of the command post. Troopers said they'll do whatever it takes to find Briggs and him to justice.
While searching for Briggs and White, investigators made another arrest.
"Basically (we) siezed and confiscated one meth lab that was being manufactured locally. There's another one in question, that's going to be seized, said Kelly.
State police confirmed two other people were in custody last night. Police said were on the property when shots were fired. We know one of them dialed 911 for help. They have since been released.
Community asked to assist the families of slain sheriff's deputies
By: The Review 04/03/2004
The community is being asked to assist the families of Bradford County sheriff's deputies Christopher Burgert and Michael VanKuren, who were slain Wednesday.
Towanda businessman Roger Brown, Towanda attorney Jeff Osmond and a third anonymous party are seeking donations from the community for a trust fund they've set up for Burgert's and VanKuren's families.
"This is to help two families where the No. 1 provider is no longer there," Brown said.
Anyone wishing to donate to the trust fund should make out a check to Fallen Deputy Sheriffs' Trust Fund and bring it to any branch of the First Citizens National Bank, Brown said.
Originally, the fund was set up to provide a reward to anyone who provided information that led to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of the killings. As of Thursday, there was $5,000 in the fund, Brown said.
On Thursday, 27-year-old Dustin Briggs of Gillett was captured and charged with murder in connection with the deaths of Burgert and VanKuren.
While community members assisted law enforcement in the capture of Briggs, Brown said he does not know of anyone yet who is eligible for the reward money. "There is no information telling us there was a tip that was crucial and critical to the capture and apprehension" of Briggs, Brown said. Brown said that if someone did provide such a tip, and it was verified by police, that person would be eligible to receive the reward money, Brown said. The reward money would consist of the funds that had been collected up until the time of Briggs' apprehension on Thursday, he said.
If no tipster comes forward to claim the reward money, all the funds collected prior to Briggs' apprehension will become part of the trust fund for the slain victims' families, Brown said. All money collected after Briggs' apprehension will be deposited in the trust fund for the families of the slain sheriff's deputies, regardless of whether a tipster comes forward to claim the reward money. Brown said that anyone wanting further information about the fund can call him at (570) 265-2922.
There will be two memorial receptions at the Bradford County Courthouse for the hundreds of police, firefighters and ambulance workers who are expected to attend the funerals of the two slain sheriff's deputies, said Doug McLinko, county commissioner.
Police, firefighters and ambulance personnel will be coming to the funerals from "all over New York state and Pennsylvania" as well as from other states such as New Jersey and Maryland, McLinko said.
The public is asked to donate food and beverages for the receptions, which will take place at the courthouse on Sunday evening and Monday, he said.
"We're asking everyone to donate food" for the receptions, McLinko said.
A variety of food items are being sought for the receptions at the courthouse, including meat trays, rolls, bags of chips, soda, and cakes, he said.
Donated food items for the receptions should be brought to the courthouse between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Monday.
Food items should be brought to the courthouse on disposable, non-returnable plates or platters, McLinko said.
A refrigerated truck will be brought to the courthouse to store food that needs refrigeration, he said.
Week of remembrance
The Bradford County commissioners have declared the week of April 4-10 a time of mourning and remembrance for Burgert and VanKuren, said Nancy Schrader, chairperson of the county commissioners.
The commissioners are requesting that flags be lowered to half-staff throughout the week, the commissioners said.
Any business that has a sign with movable type may wish to place an appropriate message on it, McLinko said.
"Bradford County has never experienced a tragedy of this proportion," said Janet Lewis, county commissioner. "We want to make sure they are remembered and honored and paid the proper respect."
Scholarship funds have been set up for the children of the fallen deputies. Memorial contributions may be directed to the Christian S. Burgert Continuing Education Fund, with the Ingersoll-Rand Credit Union, 199 N. Main St., Athens, Pa. 18810, in memory of Christian's father, Christopher Michael Burgert.
Also, a scholarship fund has been set up for Mike VanKuren's children, Andrew and Tifani. Contributions may be made at Citizens and Northern Bank, 428 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848.
Burgert and VanKuren were slain Wednesday at a residence along Congdon Road in Wells Township.
They were serving warrants at the premises.