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Target of Kern County manhunt has 'plenty of firearms,' sheriff says

Target of Kern County manhunt has 'plenty of firearms,' sheriff says
Bakersfield police officers discuss search strategy with a Kern County sheriff's deputy during a search for a suspected killer. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities have identified a gunman believed to be hiding in a remote area east of Bakersfield who is wanted for killing a dentist and wounding two Kern County sheriff's deputies more than a week ago, officials announced Tuesday.

Benjamin Peter Ashley, 34, who has a lengthy criminal past that includes arrests in Southern California, was last seen more than a week ago on an isolated property at Kelso Valley and Jawbone Canyon roads, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.

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"We're confident this is our guy," Youngblood said. "He's a survivor."

Aided by helicopters, deputies on off-road vehicles and the U.S. Marshals Service have combed the rugged terrain, abandoned mines and caves for clues into Ashley's whereabouts.

He should be considered "still armed and extremely dangerous," Youngblood said.

Ashley was believed to be in a 5-square mile search area centered at Kelso Valley and Jawbone Canyon roads.

Since the search began, nearby schools and roads have been closed and forest land and trails in the Piute Mountains shut off. The Pacific Crest Trail from California 58 to Bird Springs Pass was closed until further notice.

The community within the search area, sheriff's officials said, has been on edge.

Deputies urged residents this week to lock their doors and remain vigilant. Ashley has been known to break into cabins and homes in the areas.

"We're two weeks into this investigation, clearly he's had food and water," Youngblood said at a news conference.

On Tuesday, sheriff's officials notified residents in Weldon and the upper Weldon area that law enforcement activity was increasing once again as they continued to search for Ashley.

The rampage began July 28, when Ashley allegedly held a 19-year-old man and two 20-year-old men captive for an hour in a cabin near Twin Oaks, where he was probably squatting, sheriff's officials said.

The men were able to escape, but the gunman stole their off-road vehicle and fled, authorities said. He later abandoned the vehicle.

Investigators said they believe Ashley probably hiked over the Piute Mountains, possibly using the Pacific Crest Trail, to get to Weldon, 10 miles away.

Two days later, Ashley allegedly shot retired dentist David Louis Markiewitz, 64, of Tehachapi, killing him. Family members found Markiewitz's body inside his cabin in Weldon.

On Aug. 1, SWAT deputies were searching for Ashley on the secluded property near Kelso Valley and Jawbone Canyon, when authorities said he shot Deputy Michael Booker and Deputy Jose Perez. Booker was shot in both arms, and Perez was grazed by a bullet.

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"No matter what the costs, we have to prevent him from doing any other harm to anyone else," Youngblood said Tuesday.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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