Crime and Justice

Manhunt ends with shooting suspect taking his own life

Police tape cordons off the scene of a shooting at 50 Meadow Lane in Underhill on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

This story was updated at 6:29 p.m.

A manhunt for a suspect in an early Wednesday morning shooting in Underhill ended several hours later in a marshy, wooded area in Colchester with the man taking his own life as police closed in on him.

Vermont State Police Capt. Garry Scott said at a press briefing late Wednesday afternoon that when officers, including members of the state police Tactical Services Unit, tracked Evan Labonte to the swampy area between Creek Farm Road and Interstate 89, they tried to begin speaking with him. 

Then, Scott said, officers saw Labonte put a handgun to his head, and fire, killing himself.

Police said the incident began earlier Tuesday night and into Wednesday when Labonte sent several text messages to a former girlfriend. At around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to police, Labonte ambushed a vehicle backing out of a garage at a residence at 50 Meadow Lane and driven by the girlfriend’s current boyfriend. 

Labonte, police said, shot at close range 28-year-old Ryan Prue several times through the vehicle outside the home. The man was able to make it back into the home and police and rescue crews were called to the scene, police said.  

Labonte fled that scene on foot, setting off the nearly daylong search. 

Prue was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington where he was in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit, Scott said at the late afternoon press briefing. 

Based on the text messages to his former girlfriend and witness statements, police said they quickly identified Labonte as the suspect in the shooting. 

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At around 10:55 a.m., Scott said, a deputy with the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department spotted a vehicle driven by Labonte near the Sandbar State Park off Route 2 in Milton.

That deputy in an unmarked vehicle followed Labonte’s vehicle to the Breezy Acres mobile home park, at the intersection of Creek Farm Road and routes 2 and 7 in Colchester, according to police. 

“At that point the suspect fled on foot,” Scott said. “A perimeter was set all along Creek Farm Road.”

From that time, around 11 a.m., Scott said, until about 2:50 p.m. police made several attempts to contact Labonte through cell phones they believed he may have been carrying.

“We used pinging devices, we had multiple sightings of him in the woodline while this was occurring, trying to get him to surrender as peacefully as we could,” Scott said. 

Members of the state police tactical team, with assistance from the Burlington Police Department’s emergency response vehicle, made it into the woodline and began to approach Labonte, according to Scott.

“Upon approach the suspect shot himself in the head,” Scott said.  

The police captain said he wasn’t sure of the exact distance between Labonte and the tactical team members at that time.

“It’s still under investigation,” he said, “but they were fairly close and could see him.” 

Asked about Labonte’s motive for shooting the man in Underhill, Scott said, it appears it was over the breakup with his former girlfriend, which happened some time ago.

“It looks like the relationship had ended, there is some indication that the suspect was unhappy with that,” Scott said. “She’s moved on and he obviously had not, and so, that’s what we believe right now, preliminarily, led to this.”  

The manhunt for Labonte spanned several hours throughout Wednesday on air and on foot, involving many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as personnel from several fire departments and rescue squads.

A helicopter as well as a drone assisted in the search, Scott said, with the drone spotting Labonte several times.

“This is thick, wooded area down there, it’s very swampy, so he was able to hide under trees and move around,” Scott said. “We lost sight of him multiple times.” 

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At one point during the search, police urged people in the area of Creek Farm Road in Colchester to stay inside and lock their doors. Police said Labonte was considered to be “armed and dangerous.”

The investigation in the case remains open, according to police, and involves multiple scenes in Underhill and Colchester 

Police asked anyone with information to call Vermont State Police in Williston at 802 878-7111.

If you need help, the National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 and the Vermont Crisis Text Line is available at 741741. You can also find local organizations in your area here.

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