An Indiana man sought on suspicion of throwing a hatchet at people in a park was found Tuesday after an hourslong search through Bloomington’s storm sewer system — where investigators recovered a hand scythe, a machete and rifle cartridges.
Eli Swartzentruber, described as a 37-year-old transient, was taken into custody Tuesday evening after he fled from officers to the depths of the underground system, Bloomington police said in a news release.
Groups of officers descended upon the city’s streets, flash bang grenades were deployed, special cameras were used to search the sewers, and a shelter-in-place order was issued 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 that the man had been safely removed from the storm drain — after he was apprehended by a canine officer — and in custody, at around 5:30 p.m.
Bloomington police shared a breakdown Wednesday 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 who was swinging a steel rod at several people.
Hatchet thrown at people; escape into sewers
On their way to the park, officers got a report that the man had gone to a vehicle in a nearby Kroger parking lot, retrieved a hatchet and walked back to the same people in the park and thrown 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.
Officers searching for him found clothes that appeared to match those worn by the man 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 he was armed with a rifle, and threatened to shoot officers if they followed him in, police said.
Investigators identified the suspect as Swartzentruber, who was being sought by two counties, the news release said.
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 after an incident earlier Tuesday.
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 because of the large area that needed to be searched and Bloomington Utilities employees to provide diagrams of the storm drain system.
The multiagency search effort took hours, with special equipment being used to inspect the sewers and officers removing manhole covers from the streets.
As they were removing one manhole cover, officers found an unfired rifle cartridge below Smith Avenue that appeared to “have just recently been dropped,” police said.
Members of the Critical Incident Response Team deployed noise-flash diversionary devices into the storm sewer, creating loud bangs, apparently to move the man in a certain direction.
A Bloomington utilities camera was also deployed in the storm sewer in the area of North Indiana Avenue and East 6th Street. Once it was 500 feet into the storm sewer, officers saw 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 he would exit the storm sewer, but he instead destroyed the camera and tried to flee further into the system, authorities said.
That’s when a trooper’s K-9 officer, Loki, was deployed and 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 the Monroe County Jail, where he was remanded on charges of attempted battery with a deadly weapon and intimidation, police said.
Cartridges, scythe and machete found in sewer
A search of the sewers didn’t find a rifle or a 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 to locate any firearms.
The investigation continues, and more criminal charges could be forthcoming, police said.
Indiana University Bloomington campus police ordered occupants of Franklin Hall to shelter in place Tuesday afternoon after it was reported that an armed subject had been located at the storm drain near campus.
University President Pamela Whitten thanked local police agencies and state police for “keeping our community safe today and every day” after 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.