Authorities shuttered schools in Roanoke, Virginia on Thursday morning after reports that a 22-year-old ex-Marine and murder suspect, who is the subject of a nationwide manhunt, had dumped an R.V. — which may have contained explosives — on a road in the city’s west end.
Michael Alexander Brown, who is accused of fatally shooting his mother’s boyfriend, Rodney Brown, on Nov. 9, has eluded authorities for several days in the nationwide manhunt.
Brown, a military veteran who’s “familiar with weapons” and known to “live in the woods,” police said, has so far ditched three vehicles — a 1976 white Cadillac, a 2008 black Lincoln Town Car, and most recently, an R.V. — as he's eluded law enforcement. Authorities now believe he’s on foot in Roanoke.
“At this time, we believe he is either seeking an alternative mode of transportation or is on foot in the immediate Roanoke area,” said Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones early on Thursday during a press conference at Patrick Henry High School, less than a mile from where Brown allegedly abandoned the R.V.
Police reportedly received a call around 4 a.m. regarding suspicious activity on Tillett Street in west Roanoke where they located an R.V. nearby, believed to be Brown’s. Jones noted that Brown's mother and grandmother lived on the street.
“We believe the vehicles that he had access to have all been retained,” Jones added. “He did get to Roanoke in that R.V. but that R.V. has been neutralized at this time. As well as we know, he’s out of vehicles in that regard so he’s going to be looking for other opportunities to go mobile again.”
Police reportedly discovered “military devices” inside Brown’s R.V., which also had leaking propane tanks, according WSLS-TV. A spokesperson for Roanoke police confirmed to Oxygen.com that a Virginia State Police bomb squad had also been called into investigate the R.V.
Also on Thursday morning, reports surfaced of a man roaming a nearby neighborhood with a rifle, according to the NBC affiliate.
Officials insisted that the search for Brown wasn’t “a school-related incident,” but instead noted that the decision to close the city’s schools was an extra precaution while police combed the city for the former Marine, who is believed to be armed with “shoulder-held high capacity weapons.”
“Children’s welfare, faculty welfare are all a concern so those facilities will remain closed,” Jones added. “He is familiar with weapons and we believe he does have access to weapons. If you see something, say something.”
Earlier this week, Franklin County authorities confirmed that Brown’s Lincoln was found inside a trailer on the side of the road in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Authorities suspected Brown had previously been towing with Lincoln the R.V.
“It was likely at some point in time he was in South Carolina,” Jones said. “He is navigationally savvy. He knows how to maneuver around. He’s not afraid to change his location. He’s not afraid to change his look.”
The police chief cautioned area residents to be on the lookout for Brown, who may be wearing a black coat, and stands roughly six-feet tall, weighs 145 pounds, and has blue eyes and brown hair.
Authorities were quick to highlight Brown’s military training, which they said has so far allowed him to slip under the radar.
“The military training, I think, affords individuals the capacity to navigate, maneuver, and adapt to the environment in a much better way than perhaps the average citizen can or someone who’s not trained. So I think he does have certain assets that benefit him in this particular circumstance.”
Brown, a combat engineer, deserted his military post at Camp Lejeune — roughly 130 miles southeast of Raleigh — on Oct. 18, weeks before his mother’s boyfriend was killed.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Marine Corps confirmed that Brown was classified as a “UA” or an “unauthorized absence” — the equivalent of the Army's AWOL (Absent Without Leave) — on Oct. 25.
“We don’t tolerate any actions inconsistent with our core values,” Capt. Robert Vachon, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marine Corps, told Oxygen.com. “We’re taking this matter seriously and we’re dedicated to providing all the information we have as soon as it becomes available.”
Vachon declined to comment on the allegations against Brown or the nationwide search for the former Marine, but noted that Brown had been under internal investigation for a separate matter prior to facing murder charges. He was unable to specify what the investigation pertained to.
Police haven’t yet released a motive in the slaying of Rodney Brown. However, neighbors of the family told local media that the ex-Marine had been raised under the assumption that Rodney Brown was his father, but had recently discovered that the murdered man wasn’t his biological parent, according to WSLS-TV.
Others described Rodney Brown as a hardworking, “polite,” and “super nice guy,” WTVR also reported.
The U.S. Marshals service has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Michael Brown’s arrest.
Jones, the Roanoke police chief, compared the search for the 22-year-old to “looking for a needle in a haystack” and urged Brown to turn himself in Thursday.
“I’d like him to know he needs to contact us so that we can make arrangements that he can turn himself in,” Jones said. “We can do this the easy way. There’s always alternatives out there — he may at this point in time feel like he has run out of alternatives.”
Authorities had no further updates on the search for Brown as of early Thursday afternoon. Officials are encouraging anyone with information related to Brown’s whereabouts to call police at 1-877-926-8332.
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