ANDREWS — The trail seems to be getting colder as federal agents continue to comb the North Carolina mountains searching for Eric Rudolph. People who knew the suspected abortion clinic bomber are now speaking out.
Before he went into hiding, Rudolph conducted a lot of business in the community around Nantahala Lake. Equally elusive right now is an area merchant, George Nordmann, the man who saw Rudolph on a Tuesday and reported the sighting to authorities on the following Saturday. That sighting was what led to the massive manhunt that's going on now.
Nordmann was back at work Friday at his health food store, after over a week of being absent. Friday, the store windows were papered and the lights were out as Nordmann avoided the press.
He was spotted leaving his mountain home Thursday. Agents say Nordmann is not in protective custody, although they are watching his movements. He had no comment for reporters as he left his home.
But other people in the area are talking about the search for Rudolph. For the most part, they say federal agents will never find the suspect in the rugged terrain where he's hiding out. Those who know the fugitive agree with that.
"He was in here in the month of December and ordered two very expensive Bibles," said Lanny Mason, proprietor of Andrews Florist. "He was a nice young man, a nice young man. Very quiet, didn't have much to say. A real nice young man."
Mason said Rudolph never came back to pick up his Bibles. He added that he never suspected Rudolph to be the type of person to become involved in this situation.
That nice young man now has 200 armed men and women scouring the North Carolina mountains trying to track him down. He apparently escaped back into the mountains after reportedly stealing six months worth of food from Nordmann's store.
Everyone appears to be in agreement that, the longer the search goes on with no results, the more difficult it will be to take Rudolph into custody. Despite the force of 200 and truckloads of high-tech equipment, including helicopters, planes, infrared heat detectors and bomb-searching canines, there has been no sighting of Rudolph.
Authorities say they do not want any help from amateurs. B.J. Bach is a bounty hunter. An FBI agent stopped him, and urged him to get out of the woods.
"I'm the kind of person they need out here," Bach said. "Not a bunch of FBI that sit behind a desk and don't get off the road, and not a bunch of sheriff's department officers that are too fat to get up and walk these mountains. They need somebody that has the strength to get up in these woods and chase the guy."
Bach said that he will continue to look for Rudolph, and continue to hope for the million dollar bounty.