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How did Eric Rudolph survive?

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He may have prayed for an apocalyptic race war, but in the end Eric Rudolph was just another neighbor - quiet, unobtrusive, slightly strange.

For months, maybe years, the fugitive hid near a small valley of brick houses and trailers, leading a life so reclusive he was nearly invisible - though neighbors suggest it wasn't just the chipmunks stealing all that squash from their gardens.

"In retrospect, it doesn't bother me," says Mary Pickens, who lives nearby. "He hadn't ever hurt anyone around here."

Since Mr. Rudolph's capture by a rookie cop on Saturday, this mountain town is coming to grips with the ghost in its midst, wondering how the alleged terrorist went undetected - and whether he was helped by some of their own.

Rudolph, painted by some as a modern Daniel Boone, apparently needed them. While evading a dogged five-year manhunt, he clung to the fringes of society in a neat ridge-top camp only 200 yards from two strip malls and the high school - and a half-mile from Murphy's blue-marble courthouse. In winter, he could likely see the town from his camp; in summer, he could have heard the roar of trucks on the Appalachian Highway.

Instead of retreating into the deep mountains or urban anonymity, he stayed in a "comfort zone" at the edge of society. Experts say that choice shows Rudolph's limits as a survivalist, but also a distaste for total isolation - and, perhaps, a need to stay close to a network of conspirators.

"I don't believe he was a good survivalist," says Kevin Reeve, director of the Tom Brown Tracking School in Asbury, N.J., who's studied the Rudolph case. "The analogy is of a scuba diver who's fine until his oxygen supply runs out - and then he has to come up for air." A real survivalist, says Mr. Reeve, would have taken off up through the Great Smokies.


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