The tiny community of Imnaha remains on alert after an armed man allegedly threatened to shoot his girlfriend, her son and law enforcement and then disappeared into the Hells Canyon National Recreational Area near remote Imnaha River Woods armed with several firearms and 300 rounds of ammunition.
The man, Scott Fouste, 53, remains at large at press time.
Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office initially responded to a 911 call from Shirley Scott, 63, of Imnaha River Woods at approximately 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 11.
Scott allegedly reported that Fouste had threatened her and her grown son, Jason Scott, 41, with a gun, had attempted to gain entry by cutting a door with a chainsaw, and had then retreated to the woods armed with a .22, a shotgun, a .357 Magnum, and approximately 300 rounds of ammunition. Scott said she had frightened Fouste off by firing several gunshots.
Wallowa County Sheriff Steve Rogers said that he immediately began calling for backup, even as he and his deputies, available Oregon State Police officers, Fish and Wildlife officers and Wallowa County Department of Emergency Services raced toward the location, nearly 65 miles east of Joseph via the Imnaha Highway.
Oregon State Police SWAT team responded from a training conference in Bend but were slowed by rain and dangerous driving conditions. They arrived on the scene within four hours, Rogers said, but a requested armored vehicle was still hours behind.
“I knew this was going to be ugly and I wanted to use their armor to pull up to the door of the house and pull the victim out,” said Rogers.
Rogers had set up a command post at Sheep Creek Hill approximately 7 miles east of Joseph, where he still had cell phone service. From there he could communicate with backup and use the SAT phone supplied by Wallowa EMS to communicate with his on-sight supervisor, Deputy Fred Steen, who is a former Wallowa County Sheriff. Steen had approached the crime scene via a different route and set up his team on the Upper Imnaha River Road near the junction of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road and about 4 miles from Imnaha River Woods.
Law enforcement closed Upper Imnaha River Road from Freezeout Bridge to the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road and sandwiched the crime scene between two groups of officers.
“That was the hardest command I’ve ever done,” Rogers said. “When your guys are 50 miles away in the dark with that kind of danger (my position) is not a comfortable spot. Any time your team is in danger, and you sent them there, it’s not a good spot.”
The team remained in contact with Shirley Scott, who was reluctant to leave her home. As Rogers waited for the armored vehicle to arrive and provide suitable cover for an extraction, the incident “blew back up,” according to Rogers. At approximately midnight, the suspect returned with a firearm, threatening to shoot Scott and law enforcement officers. At that point Deputy Steen ordered officers under his command to converge on the home and rescue the victim and her son. Up on Sheep Creek Hill, Rogers supported the decision and informed officers who could not hear Steen’s radio to move in concert with the rescue mission.
“In that kind of a situation you have no choice. You have to protect the victims,” Rogers said.
When officers arrived at Scott’s home they found the suspect had again taken to the woods.
Scott and her son were removed to safety, the SWAT armored vehicle was canceled and the SWAT team returned to Bend.
Shirley Scott chose to return to her home Tuesday morning, despite the fact that Fouste was still at large.
A warrant for Fouste’s arrest is being drawn up.