Reward offered in FBI search for Valrico doomsday ‘prepper’

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VALRICO (FOX 13) –  The manhunt continues for a Valrico man considered armed and dangerous, and authorities are offering a reward for information that leads to him.


It’s been more than 24 hours since FBI agents tried to arrest Martin Winters, a self-described end-of-the-world “prepper.”


Since he escaped into the woods, he hasn’t been seen.


The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.


FBI Special Agent Dave Courvertier says agents are being strategic and prudent with their search, primarily out of concern for the safety of the public, their agents, and Winter’s own personal safety.


The manhunt started Monday morning when law enforcement agents tried to pull Winters over for a traffic stop.


He then led investigators on a high-speed chase, ditched his car, and took off in the woods.


Winters is wanted for making and collecting illegal destructive devices: mainly, metal tubes repurposed to shoot 12-gauge shotgun shells.


But the scope of the investigation is much bigger. An undercover FBI agent had been working with Winters since late last year to keep tabs on his end-of-the-world preparation group, called the “River Otter Preppers.”


The investigation’s affidavit says Winters told the undercover agent that he had dozens of AR-15’s and shrink-wrapped food buried in barrels on a handful of different properties in Valrico.


The affadavit also says Winters feared a future attack on him by the federal government, and he planned to booby trap his entire property to prepare for it, in order to “kill them.”


Agents already searched his home on Williams Blvd. Monday, but they say their search, for the “skilled survivalist” is still ongoing, with no sightings of him so far.


“This is being blown out of proportion, based upon his actions. We are trying to keep the public safety at the forefront of all of this. We’re worried about his safety. We’re willing to work with anyone that can talk to him, that has contact with him, that can convince him to come out,” Courvertier said Tuesday.


Courvertier says the FBI is approaching the search with extreme caution.


“The one thing, the one message we want to get out to him, to those that are his friends, his associates, his neighbors, is that we are trying to bring this to a peaceful resolution,” Courvertier said.


Meanwhile, neighbors of Winters don’t seem concerned about their own personal safety during the manhunt. Many say Winters provided free milk, eggs, and produce to his neighbors and the elderly.


“I feel like he would never harm a fly. Anyone who takes care of the chickens like he does, takes care of the cows, the animals, and his neighbors? Do you think he’s really a dangerous man? I don’t feel he is,” neighbor Diana Jones said Tuesday.


The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Winters’ arrest. In the meantime, they are posting his pictures on billboards across the Tampa Bay area.


Anyone with information can contact the Tampa FBI Field Office at 813-253-1000.

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