US Marshals Service joins manhunt as Pisgah Forest search shifts into Henderson County

Phillip Michael Stroupe II
Phillip Michael Stroupe II Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office

The U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force has joined the search for an armed man in the Pisgah National Forest, local officials announced Wednesday morning.

The multi-agency search for Phillip Michael Stroupe II, 39, of Weaverville, has shifted into Henderson County near the area where a break-in and vehicle theft began the saga Saturday.

“As K-9’s and tactical officers followed leads, the track led them to the eastern part of the perimeter toward the North Mills River Area of Henderson County,” the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page.

“Tuesday afternoon, it became apparent that operation was shifting directions and locations from the woodland areas surrounding Yellow Gap Road in Transylvania into the rural areas of North Mills River into Henderson.”

With the shift of command to the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office came the reopening of U.S. 276, and the U.S. Forest Service announced that the Sliding Rock Recreation Area and the Cradle of Forestry education facility were reopening.

A Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team assisted in overnight operations in the Mills River area, the Henderson department reported Wednesday.

The North Mills River recreation Area is northwest of Mills River and about 7 miles west-southwest of Asheville.

“Law enforcement is continuing to provide increased patrols in the Mills River area. Citizens are encouraged to lock their doors, make sure all vehicles are secure and to report any individuals matching Stroupe’s description or suspicious activity by calling 911,” the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office said.

Stroupe became a target for law enforcement efforts after a Transylvania County deputy spotted the missing vehicle on Avery’s Creek Road and tried to stop it.

The deputy was unable to catch up to Stroupe, officials said, partially because of campers and hikers on the rural roads in the forest.

They said Stroupe stopped at one point and stole a mountain bike at gunpoint, and he later left the vehicle blocking a road and disappeared into the woods.

There was a report from a hiker that he had encountered Stroupe and saw a gun, but he was not threatened.

Forest Service officials shut down a section of the forest and closed U.S. 276 from Brevard into the forest to keep people from going into what officials considered a dangerous area.

The road was reopened Tuesday afternoon, Transylvania officials said.

“Although we are disappointed that the suspect was not apprehended, we are optimistic that justice will eventually be served. Every available resource and option has been exhausted, and every known lead that we been made aware of has been followed. Our staff is exhausted,” the post from the Transylvania sheriff’s office said.

Stroupe has outstanding warrants for kidnapping in Buncombe County, and pending charges for identity theft and eluding arrest in a motor vehicle in Yancey County, according to state records.

Ron Gallagher: 919-829-4572, @RPGKT