Barnegat schools open as search for prison escapee who killed baby continues
Schools in Barnegat opened on Thursday as the manhunt for an escapee from a South Jersey prison continues.
At a press conference on Thursday morning in Barnegat Police Chief Arthur Drexler said officers have followed "tips and leads" but nothing concrete. Mayor John J. Novak said their search will continue within the town until there's evidence that he has left.
Drexler said that attention has been focused on the schools and enhanced security measures will be in place at Barnegat schools and bus stops at dismissal on Thursday and again on Friday. State Police will also follow many buses on their routes home. Residents should also remain vigilant, continue to lock doors and windows and report any unusual activity in their area.
Barnegat Police said they would have an officer present in each of the district's six schools, as more than 100 members of law enforcement continued the search for Arthur Buckel. Buckel, an escapee from the Bayside State Prison's Ancora unit in Hammonton, was missing from a head count of inmates on Tuesday. He was less than three weeks from being eligible for parole, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
The search began on Wednesday when Buckel, was was spotted in a stolen 2015 Chevrolet Silverado pickup in the parking lot of the CVS on West Bay Avenue Wednesday morning. That triggered a "shelter in place" in Barnegat schools, which were then dismissed in shifts on Wednesday afternoon.
Barnegat Police Sgt. Jeffrey Ryan said patrols and K9 teams fanned out along the Garden State Parkway and other likely escape routes in the vicinity, their capabilities challenged by ongoing rain.
“K9s work off of scent, and rain, including hail — of which we got a lot today — eliminates the scent,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that it's possible that Buckel may have left the area as well.
He said Buckel, whose last address was in Clifton before he was incarcerated in November, did not make contact with relatives in Barnegat or Berkeley Township.
Buckel had pleaded guilty in 1996 to aggravated manslaughter, after slapping his girlfriend's baby to death the year before.
Buckel's more recent record includes burglary, possession and aggravated assault dating back to 2014. He is described as a white male with brown hair and blue eyes, standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds.
Anyone seeing Buckel should immediately contact police and not approach him.
Agencies assisting in the investigation include the Ocean County Sheriff's Department, New Jersey Department of Corrections Fugitive Task Force, Ocean County Special Operations Group, Ocean County SWAT Team, New Jersey State Police, Ocean Township Police Department, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and Stafford Township Police Department.
Tom Mongelli and Vin Ebenau contributed to this report.