Shasta County Sheriff's deputies investigate the scene of a triple… (Andreas Fuhrmann / Associated…)
Law enforcement officers pursuing a 45-year-old man suspected of shooting his wife and two young daughters to death in Northern California continued to comb the dense forest of the Kings mountain range.
Shane Franklin Miller’s truck was found on a road near the town of Petrolia in Humboldt County last Wednesday. A resident who attended a meeting Sunday at the Mattole Valley Community Center said officials said search dogs did not pick up a scent of the suspect leading from the truck, which raised questions among the roughly 100 people in attendance.
“It was also brought up that isn’t it possible that one of Miller’s friends just met him at his truck and drove him out of the area. The sheriffs said yes,” said the resident, who asked that his name not be used out of fear of reprisal by the suspect.
Lt. Dave Kent of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department said investigators believe the suspect is hiding in the area, which he apparently knows very well.
“Just based on the information and the leads we have, we believe he’s in that area of Petrolia,” Kent said.
More than 70 law enforcement officers, including SWAT officers and U.S. marshals, descended on Petrolia — population about 300 — in Humboldt County days after Miller allegedly gunned down his wife, Sandy, 34, and their daughters Shelby, 8, and Shasta, 5, near Shingletown, about 200 miles away in Shasta County.
Miller is suspected of having gunned down his family last Tuesday night. Kent said deputies responded to a 7:45 p.m. call from the home at 28400 Alpine Way but then found Miller’s wife and daughters dead. All three had been shot multiple times.
Deputies found weapons and ammunition at the home, but not the weapon or weapons believed used in the crime.
“There was a lot of weapons that were in his name and his wife’s name that have not been accounted for,” Kent said. “He’s armed and extremely dangerous with the types of weapons unaccounted for.”
Based on interviews with family and acquaintances of Miller, investigators believe he may have kept weapons in other places, including a cabin he reportedly had in the Petrolia area. Kent said investigators believe Miller may be hiding in the rugged woodlands because he knows them so well.
It’s a dangerous situation for searchers, he said.
“We’re going into a vulnerable situation where we’re trying to search for him in a dense forest he knows very well and that we know adequately,” Kent said.
Miller is described as 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, with red hair and blue eyes. He has had previous run-ins with the law. Miller was charged in 2002 in San Francisco, according to the Redding Record Searchlight, with growing and selling marijuana, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing a machine gun and money-laundering.
The newspaper reported that Miller pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison, according to court records. Kent said Miller was discharged from federal parole within the last year.
Last month, deputies responded to a domestic disturbance at the home he shared with his wife and daughters, he said.
In an interview last week with the Associated Press, the suspect's mother said she wasn't aware of marital problems between her son and his wife, or whether he may have wanted to harm his family.
“I can’t speak to that. I don’t know,” Joan Miller said. “It was none of my business. This just breaks my heart.”
She told the AP that she had no communication with Miller after the manhunt began.
The community meeting Sunday in Petrolia drew residents anxious to get an update on the manhunt. The resident who spoke to The Times said it appeared Miller had grown up in Petrolia.
The resident said the area is difficult to search not only because it’s so forested, but because cellphones don’t work very well and cabins and other outbuildings are spread out over a broad landscape. He said late last week that a wave of law enforcement showed up in Petrolia, some in armored vehicles, and helicopters ferried in some personnel.
Petrolia lies in a region called the Lost Coast, a large wilderness area that boasts one of the longest stretches of pristine, undeveloped coastline. The town has a general store with a post office, a volunteer fire department and not much else spread over one block.
Kent, of the Sheriff's Department, said investigators continue to process evidence and DNA from the crime scene in Shingletown and from the truck he left behind.
“Everything is status quo right now, with slow, methodical searches of that area of Petrolia,” he said. “We’re rotating crews out so they get adequate rest."
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