An Indiana man sought for throwing a hatchet at people in a park was found after an hours-long search through Bloomington’s storm sewer system Tuesday — where investigators recovered a hand scythe, machete and rifle cartridges.
Eli Swartzentruber, described as a 37-year-old transient, was taken into custody Tuesday evening after fleeing from officers to the depths of the underground system, Bloomington Police said in a news release.
The search for him saw groups of officers descend upon the city’s streets, flash bangs deployed, special cameras used to search the sewers and a shelter-in-place order for parts of Indiana University Bloomington.
Police first posted on social media that they were searching for a barricaded man in the sewer system at around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. It wasn’t until six hours later that police announced the man was safely removed from the storm drain — after being apprehended by a canine officer — and in custody at around 5:30 p.m.
Bloomington Police on Wednesday shared a breakdown of the events that led to Tuesday’s manhunt, saying it kicked off with a 911 call at around 9:30 a.m. about a man swinging a steel rod at several individuals.
Hatchet thrown at people, escape into sewers
While en route to the park, officers received a report that the suspect had gone to a vehicle in a nearby Kroger parking lot and retrieved a hatchet then walked back to the same individuals in the park and threw the hatchet at them, police said.
When officers arrived, witnesses said the man had left the area on foot and was seen headed southbound on First Street, police said.
During a search for him in the area, officers found clothes that appeared to match those worn by the suspect hanging from a railing along First Street near a very large storm drain exit.
Officers yelled into the drain, ordering the man to exit. He yelled back claiming that he was armed with a rifle and threatened to shoot officers if they followed him in, according to police.
Investigators identified the suspect as Swartzentruber, who was being sought by two counties, the news release stated.
In Daviess County, he had an outstanding arrest warrant on a felony charge of battery against a public safety official, and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was searching for him on several felony charges following an alleged incident earlier Tuesday morning.
Special cameras and noise-flashes deployed
Police called in the department’s Critical Incident Response Team for help, a SWAT team from Indiana State Police due to the large area that needed to be searched, and Bloomington Utilities employees to provide diagrams of the storm drain system.
The multi-agency search effort took hours, with special equipment used to inspect the sewers and officers removing manholes from the streets.
When removing one manhole cover, officers found an unfired rifle cartridge below Smith Avenue that appeared to “have just recently been dropped,” police said.
Members with CIRT then deployed noise-flash diversionary devices into the storm sewer, creating loud bangs, in an apparent effort to move the suspect into a certain direction.
A City of Bloomington Utilities camera was also deployed into the storm sewer in the area of North Indiana Avenue and East 6th Street. Once 500 feet into the storm sewer, officers observed a man matching the suspect’s description on the camera, believed to be in the area under Kirkwood Avenue, police said.
With that sighting, the man said that he’d exit the storm sewer, but instead destroyed the camera and attempted to flee further into the system.
That’s when a trooper’s K9 officer, Loki, was deployed and successfully apprehended the suspect.
Swartzentruber was taken into custody by troopers and found with an empty handgun holster on him.
He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, then to Monroe County Jail where he was remanded on attempted battery with a deadly weapon and intimidation, police said.
Cartridges, scythe and machete found in sewer
A search of the sewers did not locate a rifle or handgun that Swartzentruber claimed to have, but investigators did find several unfired .30-60 rifle cartridges, a hand scythe and a machete.
A search of the sewers will continue in the coming days to locate any potential firearms.
The investigation is still ongoing and additional criminal charges may be forthcoming, police said.
Campus police for Indiana University Bloomington ordered occupants of Franklin Hall to shelter in place Tuesday afternoon after reports of the armed subject at the storm drain located near the campus.
University President Pamela Whitten thanked local police agencies and state police for “keeping our community safe today and everyday” following the chaos.
“The actions our IU Police Department took today showed their steadfast commitment to prioritizing the safety of our IU community, and we are grateful for their service,” she said in a statement.