PITTSBURGH — Joshua Gurto, the Ohio man charged with the rape and murder of a 13-month-old girl, has been arrested in Franklin Park after a nationwide manhunt.
Gurto, 37, was on the run for nearly three weeks, wanted by the United States Marshals Service and the Conneaut Police Department in the murder out of Ashtabula County.
Channel 11 got a look at where fugitive Joshua Gurto was living in the middle of the woods in Ohio Township, for what police think was at least a week.
The suspect was first spotted in the Pittsburgh area Wednesday afternoon at a Sheetz gas station on Mt. Nebo Road in Ohio Township. Early Friday morning, he was seen near another Sheetz, on Nicholson Road in Franklin Park.
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That's about seven miles away from his campsite.
Police in Franklin Park said Gurto was wearing all camouflage and carrying a backpack when an officer recognized him. The officer activated his patrol vehicle’s emergency lights and pointed a spotlight at Gurto, then got out of the vehicle, drew his pistol and ordered Gurto to the ground. %
“He was done. He was done running, apparently,” Franklin Park Sgt. Walter Healey, whose colleague made the arrest, said.
Authorities said that during his time on the run, Gurto camped out in the woods and hitchhiked. He had a tent, as well as a knife and maps of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in his backpack.
Channel 11 has learned he hitchhiked his way here from Girard, near Erie, and told the driver to drop him off near Pittsburgh.
Gurto was taken to the Allegheny County Jail. He is expected to be extradited to Ohio within 3-5 days.
Gurto has no military background or survivalist training.
"There's 27 acres here, he could've been hiding here for a while," said Amanda Manko, who started seeing Gurto in the woods near her Ohio Township house on Tuesday, but she didn't know then he was a wanted fugitive.
"I saw a tent, like a little blue one-man tent, and I thought, 'Oh that's weird,' but I walked to back out of the words. And the next day, Wednesday, I walked back into the woods and Lucy, the younger shepherd, kept barking and barking and barking at the time, and I just got this really weird feeling."
Wednesday, her mom sent her a text with Gurto's picture and she realized the man she saw was wanted for murder. She called police right away.
"We walked down with the U.S. Marshal and the police investigators yesterday to show them," Manko said. It's more than a mile into the woods, about a 15-minute walk.
It doesn't look like much now, but we know Gurto had a fire pit and it was his base camp before and after he was spotted at Sheetz.
Police aren't exactly sure why Gurto picked it for his campsite or exactly how he got up there.
He grew up on a farm in the country and authorities believe that's what helped him live off the land and elude police for so long.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT CASE
Gurto is charged with aggravated murder and rape in the death of 13-month-old Sereniti Jazzlynn-Sky Blankenship-Sutley. %
Police responded on Oct. 7 to a call about an unresponsive child at an apartment in Conneaut, northeast of Cleveland, The Associated Press reported. Sereniti had blunt-force injuries to her head and body. She died at a hospital.
Gurto dated Sereniti’s mother for three months.
COMMUNITIES BREATHING SIGH OF RELIEF
After Gurto was spotted Wednesday in Ohio Township, the quiet community and surrounding areas became the center of the multi-state manhunt, leaving many residents uneasy leading up to his arrest.
“It's very disturbing,” Jennifer Ropchack said on Thursday. “I work with children as a nurse and I do in-home care so anything to do with children is very upsetting to me.”
On Thursday night, more than a dozen sheriff's deputies with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office gathered at the Sheetz on Mt. Nebo Road -- just hours before Gurto showed up near the Franklin Park Sheetz about 5 miles away.
“Thank God these police were able to be out there at 1:30 in the morning because you never know what could've possibly happened after that,” Ed Dippolito, who lives not far from the Franklin Park Sheetz, said.
Other neighbors echoed Dippolito’s gratitude to the officer who captured Gurto.
“I thought it was a little disconcerting he was so close to our home, but it was nice to know the police had apprehended him,” Tom Riley said.
Avonworth Elementary School, which is near the initial search area, was prepared to provide extra security Friday morning if Gurto remained on the run. Administrators told parents that police would be on hand as children headed to school.
Cox Media Group