An online campaign to raise funds for a Pennsylvania man who bears an unfortunate resemblance to a fugitive cop killer has raised more than $24,000 in a week.
On Sept. 12, 2014, Eric Frein opened fire on a police barracks with a sniper rifle, killing one state trooper and seriously injuring another. Frein, a practised survivalist, fled the scene for the forests of the Pocono mountains. Authorities have been unable to find him since. Police have deployed camera-equipped blimps, SWAT teams, and sniffer dogs in the manhunt for Frein, who the Independent dubbed “U.S. public enemy number 1.”
— Pocono Brelje (@BethBrelje) October 27, 2014
Meanwhile, an innocent man has been caught up in the middle of it all.
James Tully works at the engineering firm JA Reinhardt in the Pocono Mountains. Low wages and child-support payments mean he can’t afford a car, and he walks five miles to work every day—straight through the forests that Frein is believed to be hiding in.
In the six weeks since Frein went on the run, Tully has been stopped at least 20 times by police mistaking him for the fugitive. The actual number is likely much higher, but Tully says he’s stopped counting. He’s been stopped seven times in a single day, he says. Following an unpleasant incident with a member of the manhunt, he now wears a fluorescent jacket and his ID on a lanyard around his neck.
“Silver unmarked SUV pulls up, the driver jumps out pointing a rifle at my head, ordering me down to the ground, constantly demanding what my name is, has a knee buried into my back,” Tully recounted to CBS.
But now, a neighbor’s kindness has sparked a wave of donations for Tully, with tens of thousands of dollars flooding in from hundreds of strangers worldwide in the hopes that this case of mistaken identity will be resolved once and for all.
Dawn DeBiase lives close to Tully, and has met him a few times. They “have common friends and he worked with my mom at one point,” DeBiase writes. A week ago, she started a GoFundMe fundraising page for Tully after hearing of his plight. She wanted to raise money to buy him a car, thus ending his run-ins with police in the forests.
Although it was only meant to raise $2,500 to buy a car and cover “taxes, registration, title, tags and of course insurance,” the fundraiser shot past that initial goal. In just a week, it has raised almost 10 times the initial goal: $24,125 at press time.
DeBiase is now closing the fundraiser—at Tully’s request. “He doesn’t want to be greedy about it, because what’s there now will help him,” she told CNN. “He’s ready to take it there.” Other members of the local community are also reportedly now offering Tully rides to work.
Tully’s plight might soon be over, and there’s good news for police too: The Independent reports that the autumn season’s falling leaves may remove Frein’s foliage cover, making the hunt for the cop killer significantly easier.