Federal authorities still searching for Valrico 'doomsday prepper'
Martin Howard Winters
VALRICO, FL (WFLA) -
The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of 55-year-old Martin Howard Winters, who is the head of a “doomsday preppers” group, and is accused of making destructive devices.
Teams of FBI agents and ATF agents swarmed Valrico property owned by Winters. Residents in the area were kept out of their homes for hours as local and federal law enforcement officers searched for Winters.
On Tuesday, the roads were no longer blocked and the search teams were no longer visible.
Neighbor Frank Foster says officers came to his home, pounding on his door as they were looking for Winters.
"The door bell rang, several times, hard," said Foster. "I jumped from the table and went to the front door, nobody there."
Foster did not answer the door, but he did arm himself.
"I said 'I've got a .38 in my hand, and it's loaded with my finger on the trigger and if you knock that door down, I'm going to blow your head off'," Foster recounted to News Channel 8.
Foster lives several miles from Winters’ home, but not far from where federal authorities first tried to arrest Winters on Monday morning.
Others in the area say they saw SWAT tanks rolling down the street and dozens of police cars.
Officers wearing camouflage clothing lay in the grass, setting up a perimeter as the initial search for Winters was underway and a Blackhawk Helicopter circled overheard.
Federal authorities have an arrest warrant for Winters for the illegal purchase of firearms and for making "explosive devices."
Read: Full text of the search warrant for Winters' property here
The FBI describes Winters as a "prepper" who believes the end of the world is coming soon.
An affidavit filed in federal court says Winters is stockpiling arms, food and other supplies to prepare for the end of the world.
With the help of the Internet and social media, such groups have grown in recent years, says former FBI agent Joe Navarro.
Navarro said the groups dropped off in the mid-1990's after the deadly Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
"A lot of extremist groups died out because they realized 'oh my gosh, these things are dangerous and we can do a lot of harm," said Navarro. "But in the last ten to fifteen years, it's grown and grown exponentially."
Several people who live near Winters home say the government is blowing the whole situation out of proportion.
"Marty wouldn't hurt nobody," said neighbor Cyndal Hicks. "Marty just believes the end is coming and he's scared about it."
Hicks says when she burned her arm, Winters provided her medical care.
"Another time I called his daughter, I said 'hey Melinda, I need some formula, I'm havin' it rough',” Hicks continued. "I asked for formula, they bring me baby food, they brought me diapers, they brought me wipes."
FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier says he just wants Winters to turn himself in so the situation can end peacefully.
"No one has been hurt yet, and we want to keep it that way," said Couvertier.