ST. JOHNS, Ariz. - A forest ranger who alertly spotted a pair of fugitives at a remote Arizona campsite was hailed Friday as "a true hero" after his tip allowed a heavily armed law enforcement contingent to capture the couple.
The efforts by the ranger came at great risk. Fugitive John McCluskey had a gun in his possession and said he wished he would have shot the forest ranger and arresting officers when he had the chance, authorities said.
"He is a true hero," Apache County Sheriff Joseph Dedman said of the ranger. "He made contact. He was out there doing his job when he saw these two fugitives." McCluskey and Casslyn Welch were captured after a three-week manhunt that made them two of the most wanted fugitives in America.
It's not clear where the fugitives traveled while on the run in a Nissan. They are suspected in several crimes, including the killing of a couple in New Mexico. McCluskey and Welch were scheduled to appear in court Friday for an initial appearance.
McCluskey fled July 30 with two other inmates from a privately run state prison in northwest Arizona and evaded authorities in at least six states before being caught Thursday evening just 300 miles east of the prison.
Authorities arrested McCluskey, 45, and Welch, 44, at a campsite in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona. Welch is McCluskey's fiance and cousin.
Apache County sheriff's Cmdr. Webb Hogle said McCluskey and Welch were standing next to a car that belonged to a neighboring camper as the SWAT team swarmed the campground just before dark. He yelled at McCluskey to "get down." When the inmate didn't comply, Hogle said he took him down with force.
Welch reached for a weapon but dropped it when she realized she was outgunned by the team led by Hogle. SWAT members reminded one another not to handle Welch's weapon too much in case it was used in the New Mexico killings, Hogle said.
McCluskey responded, "No, the murder weapon is over in the tent," Hogle said. McCluskey also told authorities he would have used the gun in the tent to shoot them if he had been able to reach it. "He has no remorse," Hogle said.
McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province - who escaped with McCluskey and the third inmate but was captured on Aug. 9 - have been linked to the slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., whose burned bodies were found in a travel trailer Aug. 4 on a remote ranch near Santa Rosa, N.M.
Officials said the stolen car at the Arizona campsite had New Mexico plates stolen around the time the Haases were killed.