James Everett Dutschke, the man whose home was searched Wednesday in the ricin-letters case, was able to escape surveillance for a short time Thursday.
He was located by authorities and returned home Thursday afternoon.
It was a very busy Wednesday night into Thursday in the Itawamba County, Miss., community of Ozark, according to neighbors. Nearly two dozen law enforcement vehicles kept watch on a house as part of the government's investigation in the ricin letters case.
"Normally this is a quiet road, but there were lots of strange cars going in and out, blacked out windows from starting yesterday around 5 in the afternoon until early this morning," said an Ozark resident. "My wife and I were kind of worried all night."
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The home was ultimately searched around 12:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The house belongs to Melvin Kitchens. His son and grandson are friends with Dutschke, who federal investigators are focusing their attention on who sent three poisoned letters in recent weeks to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lee County, Miss., Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.
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Dutschke was last seen Wednesday with his friend Kirk Kitchens. Around 12:30 Thursday afternoon, the Itawamba County Sheriff's Office searched for Dutschke in the Kitchens' house and nearby sheds.
"At this point we know that he is not in the residence," Sheriff Chris Dickinson said. "No one is in the residence. We do not know the whereabouts of these two people. At one point Wednesday night around 9:15 p.m., they were at the house but somehow they were able to abandon the house and how they did it. I don't know, and where they went I don't know."
Law enforcement officers say Kitchens was pulled over on Highway 371 Wednesday evening. The only problem is, they saw Kitchens in the car but did not see Dutschke.
"Our deputies made a traffic stop on Mr. Kitchens," Sheriff Dickinson said. "We believe that Mr. Dutschke was in the vehicle with him, but at that point the deputy did not have any reason to hold him. The deputy did not see Mr. Dutschke that I can confirm."
Late Thursday afternoon law enforcement officers located Kitchens. He told them he helped Dutschke get out of town to avoid the media. Kitchens did not know not Dutschke's whereabouts.
Kitchens said he doesn't believe Dutschke had anything to do with the ricin-laced letters. He told FOX13 News he helped his friend get out of town Wednesday night. They drove to a rural area and went through the woods without flashlights trying to get away from the media.
Tupelo residents were talking and say they wish this cloud over their city would move on.
"I'm glad no one got sick and I'm glad no one got hurt," said Ashley Jones. "It was caught in time. I am ready for it to go away. It doesn't deserve the amount of publicity it's gotten. There are a lot of other issues that deserve it a lot more."
"I'm not worried. It's a sleepy little town," added Michelle Worthy, resident. "I feel safe."
"You know, things have changed," said Bob Webb. who visits Tupelo frequently. "I'm 75 years old. This stuff didn't happen way back."
FOX13 News reporter Kristin Tallent contributed to this report from Tupelo, Miss.
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