Real Life Escape and Evasion: Lessons from 20 Days on the Run
by Fabian Ommar
The manhunt I wrote about last week came to an end on the morning of Monday the 28th, officially three weeks after its start. (In reality, he was being chased for much longer, but let’s leave it at that).
Lázaro (his real name), the violent and dangerous criminal who terrified an entire region and claimed many victims, was shot dead during a violent confrontation with officers who trapped him less than 100 miles from the country’s capital. His victims include an entire family of four members, which prompted the final big chase.
Everybody knew someone like him would never give up peacefully. He never made attempts or any contact to negotiate his surrender. His efforts were always directed to escape the police, with increasing violence and determination. Since he was armed and considered “extremely dangerous,” most people expected this ending once the police closed in on him. It was only a matter of time.
This outcome is what happens to most violent, big-profile criminals
These criminals often end up trapped, shot, betrayed, snitched on, expelled, or they die out there. Sometimes the criminals escape. But with time, the odds turn in favor of the “house,” i.e., the authorities and society in general. It’s a matter of resources, and for the most part, those are practically unlimited on the side of the state. Troops can go on forever. Surveillance helps to locate and collect info in real-time at one point or another. International forces collaborate. It’s possible, though very hard, to beat technology and big numbers.
Society (the majority of it) doesn’t tolerate this kind of behavior. The community helps the authorities’ efforts, especially when the offender is violent and intimidating or is causing great disturbance. When things are normal, no community will stand terror and insecurity for too long. People want peace and normalcy. They want to go on with their lives.
Often, fallen, popular “anti-heroes” also have a terrible end to their criminal careers
Think Pablo Escobar, and others less famous, as mentioned by some in my previous article’s comments. Some predators lay low and keep acting for years, sometimes even decades, in the shadows. Think of the fictional Hannibal Lecter, who epitomizes the high IQ and emotionally controlled psychopath and serial killer stereotype.
As in this case, others end up sparking interest and attention of the media and the population for one reason or another. It can be due to their profiles, the violent nature of their crimes, or an extraordinary escape or feat. If they enter the radar, pressure by some sectors of society mount up for a swift response by authorities. The apparatus is then put in action to cease the threat in one way or another.
Predators exist everywhere and closer than most think
Before I go on with the final details and analysis of the case, I’ll make a detour and bring attention to the fact that Selco talks about this very thing in some of his articles and books. Not the chase itself, but people and their nature. Sociopaths, psychopaths, the violent, and the sick are numerous among us even now. And every day, “good” people can do bad things too. It’s just how things are.
Another point worth consideration is the reliance and dependence on the authorities to keep us safe and the belief in this. As we know, it’s an illusion. The people in the region are sure feeling safe now. And, they are celebrating the end of this nightmare. That’s fair. But deep down, they know there are others out there. We all do.
This circles back to that topic of armed vs. unarmed population
I wrote about that in the previous article, so I’ll present another aspect of it now. Firearms aren’t the be-all-end-all of crime or SHTF. But here in Brazil, it’s estimated that about 150.000 fugitives considered dangerous are on the loose. Obviously, it’s impossible to muster a 300-agent operation to chase down each one of them.
Anyway, most of them feel restrained with the system in place, at least to a level. Some will defy the system, the functioning authorities, and society in general and opt for crime no matter what. But the capturing and judging (or elimination) of such threats, like in this case, sends the message to both these individuals and society: some crimes may go unpunished, but some lines, once crossed, will elicit a heavy response. It is how law and justice work in most places: action, punishment, example, etc.
Now, I’m not entering the merits of how efficient this system is or isn’t where you or I live. There are many nuances and differences to account for, too. Also, most systems are corrupt, in some places more than in others. It’s a biased, prejudiced, politicized mechanism, all of that and more. However, none of this matters. If a system is in place, there are consequences to some actions, and hence there’s some order.
There’s still law when there’s no system
SHTF doesn’t mean the end of the law, just the law as most people know it. There’s no such thing as a “political and orderly vacuum.” Someone always ascends to the top, regardless of the conditions and circumstances. However, it may be a different structure though, a different set of rules, and a fragmented “justice system” put in place by other groups or rulers.
This happens in collapsing countries, places ravaged by civil wars or hit by disasters so widespread that the institutions are imploded, and there’s no clear government (or a dispute for power and supremacy). Selco provides many examples of this in his accounts of the Balkans’ war in his book The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival.
Someone WILL enforce the rules
Another example is any place where the system doesn’t reach or isn’t present and actuating due to bad policies and inefficiencies. Areas range from a few blocks to an entire part of a big city or a region of a country. They’re usually areas ruled by militias and mafias, gangs, drug cartels, mercenaries, warlords, terrorist groups – any type of criminal.
For example, the slums, or “favelas” of Rio de Janeiro, which are ruled by traffic and militia. Or, the neighborhood gangs of Western Cape in South Africa and regions of Colombia under the influence of FARC. Also, the cities and states in Iraq and Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban. It can be civil occupation zones, too, among perfectly functional societies, such as CHAZ. In one way or another, these are subject to specific rules and codes, which of course, can’t be compared to a healthy, standard justice system.
Back to the case
The police kept quiet about the chase as it was unfolding. (OPSEC: this is a basic, essential strategy. )The fugitive had ways to keep up with the news, and the agents didn’t want to give away their moves and advancements. The media collaborated to that, but the population lashed out as usual.
Now many details of the episode have been disclosed, and we know more about what he did to move around, evade the 270-strong tactical forces, and just plain surviving during this time. He indeed resorted to a lot of Buschcrafting techniques as believed. He foraged, hunted, used camouflage efficiently, and a lot more.
To better understand the case, I’ll describe the environment where it took place in more detail. I should’ve done this in the first installment, but here it goes anyway.
It didn’t happen in the middle of the jungle
As opposed to what some thought, it wasn’t in a thick forest or anything like that. We’re talking about a low-density, rural region, an environment known as cerrado: primarily flat, semi-arid, and wide-open areas interspersed with green patches and lots of plantations, small farms, and cattle ranches. There are lots of clear spaces with low, desert-like vegetation, some small winding rivers, roads, and small-to-mid-sized towns, most between 20.000 to 200.000 inhabitants (such as the city he was found).
The killer moved around AND covered his trail
Lázaro took great care to try and move around without leaving traces by walking in river beds and gorges, over stones, and paved roads. He also robbed cars and drove around, avoiding police barricades and obvious checkpoints. I still can’t figure out why he didn’t try to escape the region. Maybe he couldn’t, though I suspect it was familiar for him. Perhaps he felt safer there even with all the police on his tail. He’d sleep in trees and stay inside small caves or hide in steep banks and ravines. The fugitive frequently entered the bushes to cross between lands, to dodge his persecutors, or whenever someone spotted him. He traveled in between the small ranches and farms, occasionally approaching the borders of cities.
The fugitive knew how to cover his trails to elude officers and the dogs used in the chase. He burned everything, the clothes, the cars, and other items he discarded. In one instance, he tried to shoot down the police K9 who had caught his trail, firing from his hideout. The bullet missed but the killer still managed to escape the persecutors. One bullet grazed the face of an agent, but thankfully nothing serious happened.
The police found a piece of bedsheet with blood, which indicates he may have been injured, and improvised a tourniquet. He was also seen limping, though it’s uncertain if a shot caused this during a confrontation or by some other accident while he was on the run. Lazaro knew how to tend to his wounds and self-medicate, at least to some basic level. He obviously knew he could never enter a hospital or other facility, so he had to care for himself and tough it out.
In various instances, he used camouflage relatively efficiently, which is very common among hunters. Though he wasn’t one, he was a “mateiro” (buschcrafter) and used to being in the wilderness. In a tense situation, he held three members of a family hostage. Using tree branches and foliage he covered them and himself from the view of the police helicopter overflying the area. It’s believed he had plans to kill the family afterward (typical of his modus operandi). But the police were able to spot them and scare him in time, avoiding a massacre.
Resource acquisition: He foraged and hunted small animals
The police found some frog leftovers and other rests and supplies at campsites and on trails. I mentioned that many families in the region bugged out in fear, which facilitated his resupply in many instances. He’d invade those empty homes without fear of reaction and consume the food, the water, and even the clothes left behind without being disturbed. The police are sure this delayed his capture by making it easier and safer for him to rest, recover and resupply. Again, this wouldn’t be possible, or indeed much harder, with an armed population.
At least in one instance, it is believed that he got assistance from locals. He was spotted walking freely around a farm getting provisions, eating, and even calmly charging his phone. The owner of the farm, thought to be his assistant was arrested. It is yet unclear if this support was voluntary or if the owner was under coercion and is still under investigation. It’s known that he threatened various people that way, promising future revenge to them and their families if they didn’t help or if someone denounced him. Some people likely complied out of fear of retaliation.
He was found, trapped, and shot down on the skirts of a 200.000 inhabitants town. The exact circumstances haven’t yet been revealed, though it’s clear that he opened fire at the agents as they closed in on him, and they fought back. During the last few days, he went more into towns to get food and other stuff. He tried to adopt different looks, as he’d done before in his criminal career. But this time, his face and different simulations were all over the place: the most-wanted criminal in the country.
He was often recognized by the attendants and immediately evaded the place upon noticing he’d been recognized. People were so frightened that their eyes gave it away immediately. He’d lost weight, was growing more nervous, and taking more chances. Revealing he was perhaps running out of moves and losing ground, or feeling emboldened, which is unlikely according to some experts. The chase was nearing the end.
A man got pulled by a small mob on the roadside and assaulted in a bordering state because he looked like the criminal. The lynching stopped when they realized he was the wrong man. Is this barbaric? Yes, because it’s a sign of many things going wrong in a society or community: fear, desperation, disregard for the state of law, discredit in the authorities, revolt with rampant criminality.
This doesn’t happen when things are normal, but they become normal when things are crazy.
To conclude, I think it’s important to acknowledge the work of the police. Though much criticized during this time (and still afterward), the special forces did a rather good job. It’s also important to mention that with all its flaws the police here are far from a bunch of Sancho Panza slackers. Most elite squads are highly trained and capable, comparable to similar forces of any country (police forces worldwide exchange a lot in tactics, training, equipment, and everything else).
Once again, I don’t say that to eulogize the feats and abilities of the criminal. It’s just to try and look objectively at things, events, and roles played by each part. He was a fierce and somewhat prepared opponent that we must concede. Finding and capturing someone like him in his own backyard, covering a large area with those characteristics, isn’t as easy as most people think.
A word from Daisy
In the end, many lessons are left for everyone, and I’m sure each one will draw something from episodes like this. That’s why I decided to tell this story. Talking about this with Daisy the other day, just before this was over, she put it perfectly so I’ll finish with her words, with which I agree: “I too like to take lessons from things like that, sort of in the mindset of the fugitive (minus the psychopathy of course). When you dare to step into shoes like that, you can learn a lot.”
Lessons. Mindset. Dare. Learn. Those are great takeaways.
Put yourself in these shoes.
If, for some reason, you had to go on the run for nearly three weeks, would you know how to survive and evade capture? What skills would you use? What would you do to better your chances? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor