Eric Frein obsessively collected military memorabilia, dismissed his fellow war re-enactors as dilettantes, and took his hobby so seriously that he spoke French during a simulated Vietnam War-era interrogation, according to a filmmaker who interviewed the man now suspected of ambushing a Pennsylvania State Police barracks.
Frein appears in an upcoming documentary about Vietnam re-enactors called "Vietnam Appreciation Day," identifying himself by name and saying that re-enactments are "about teaching the public and showing the equipment that was used, talking about the history of it all."
Frein, 31, is charged with killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson and injuring another trooper in the Sept. 12 ambush outside a rural barracks. He has managed to elude hundreds of law enforcement officials looking for him in the heavily wooded Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
The documentary's director, Patrick Bresnan, recalled Frein as odd and aloof, segregating himself from the other re-enactors.
Frein and two of his friends "kind of viewed the other re-enactors as, in their words, playing cowboys and Indians," Bresnan told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "'They are playing war,' is what he says, 'and we're here because we want to preserve the history of war and we want to meet veterans and we want to catalogue their stories.'"
Frein made sure every detail of his look was just right, Bresnan said, and lost himself in the simulated battles that featured authentic period military rifles firing blanks.
"If you saw Eric go through the woods, it was very scary," he said. "He was absolutely serious when he was going through the brush, hunting Viet Cong at these re-enactments."
The director added he did not feel Frein posed an actual threat.
"With Eric and his friends, they are so much more educated than the average re-enactor that we figured they were too smart to harm anyone," he said.
Police have called Frein a survivalist with a vendetta against law enforcement. They believe he's hiding in the woods where he grew up and his parents still live. But there was no indication Tuesday that authorities are imminently close to catching him.
Frein attended East Stroudsburg University for one semester as a history student in 2005 and then again for two semesters in 2011 and 2012 as a chemistry major, but he didn't graduate, said Brenda Friday, a university spokeswoman. He also attended classes off and on at Northampton Community College from 2008 to 2013 but never received a degree, said spokeswoman Heidi Butler.
Frein once worked as a part-time, seasonal employee at the Boy Scouts of America's Camp Minsi in the Poconos, according to Craig Poland, scout executive with the Minsi Trails Council.
As the search for Frein continued, NBC's "Today" show aired footage from "Vietnam Appreciation Day." In one clip, Frein talked about the difficult terrain where one of the re-enactments took place — an eerie prelude to the real-life manhunt playing out in the area around Canadensis, where authorities have been closing roads and residents have been unable to get back to their homes due to the heavy police presence.
Though Bresnan last saw Frein in 2011, the director remembered Frein and his friends clearly.
"They really identified with the soldiers of Vietnam because they came back to the U.S. and were rejects from society," Bresnan said. "Eric and his friends definitely identified with the underdogs and rejects."
Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press writer Sean Carlin in Philadelphia contributed to this story.