Posted: Jun 20, 2012 4:52 PM by Irina Cates - KPAX News
Updated: Jun 21, 2012 7:17 AM
LOLO HOT SPRINGS- Investigators still have many unanswered questions about what former Project 7 militia leader David Burgert had in mind when he started a shootout with deputies last spring and then disappeared into the woods of Western Montana.
Investigators went back to the scene in hope of bringing the case to a close early on Wednesday and spent several hours searching for clues in the disappearance of Burgert.
Missoula County Sheriff's Department deputies responded to the Fort Fizzle off of U.S. Highway 12 outside of Lolo on On June 12, 2011 after a citizen reported Burgert was illegally camping in the area.
After deputies went over to ask Burgert to leave, the former militia man jumped in his Jeep and took off. Deputies chased him for miles, ending up in an area off of Wagon Mountain Road, where Burgert fired shots at them and disappeared into the woods.
During Wednesday's search, the lead investigator instructed searches to look slowly and meticulously for Burgert or his belongings.
"Any piece of evidence, however slight, we're looking for-anything that would bring us a clue to think that he has been in this position," said Missoula County Sheriff's Department Lt. Dave Conway, the lead investigator on the case.
"At this point, a year later, you're looking at scattered clothing, scattered bones, anything like that. We wouldn't expect to find an intact body at this time," added Missoula County Sheriff's Office Undersheriff Mike Dominic.
Forty people from seven different agencies helped search, including the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, U.S. Marshals and the U.S. Forest Service. The searchers hiked in steep terrain, climbed over large downed trees, walked through a shallow creek and searched through thick brush.
SWAT teams searched some of this same area right after the shootout, but concern for officer safety kept them from doing a thorough search, Conway said.
"Because they were afraid David would set up an ambush for them, they approached very cautiously, of course," Conway explained. "And they did a sweep of the area that they believed that he may have run toward, but there's only a number of those tactical officers, so they were only able to conduct a limited search."
Although they didn't find any evidence tied to Burgert, investigators say the search is a success.
"We just didn't find what we were looking for, but eliminated a large portion of an area that he could have covered," said Conway.
"We could have still missed something down in there, I don't thing we did," added Dominick.
Investigators still don't know if Burgert is dead, or alive, although some of them believe he couldn't have made it this long without getting himself in trouble.
Investigators followed up on 60 tips about Burgert over the last year, but none of them panned out.
Anyone with information on Burgert can call the Missoula County Sheriff's Office at (406) 258.4810 or Crimestoppers at (406) 721.4444.