Update, 3:55 p.m. — The man suspected of killing 23-year-old Montana Highway Patrol Trooper David DeLaittre in Three Forks Wednesday evening likely died from a gunshot wound, Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"There were a number of rounds fired, multiple rounds, by both individuals," Cashell said. "Trooper DeLaittre was able to return fire toward the suspect."

Errol Brent Bouldin, 56, was found dead in his pickup in the Crow Creek valley south of Townsend after an exhaustive manhunt that started around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, when an unnamed Three Forks police officer found DeLaittre dead on Montana Highway 2.

The Three Forks officer was responding to assist DeLaittre, who had stopped to find out why Bouldin's green Ford F-250 was parked and running in the middle of the road, Cashell said.

More than 100 law enforcement officers from several local and state agencies responded to help search for the suspect, who initially was thought to have fled on foot.

Though it is clear that both men fired several shots at each other, the investigation is still ongoing, and an autopsy was being performed on Bouldin's body, Cashell said.

"We do believe that the suspect was injured in the exchange with DeLaittre," the sheriff said. "However, we have not confirmed that, and as we sit here, the autopsies are taking place. We hope tomorrow or the next day we'll have some solid answers on what took place there."

"Am I 100 percent sure that they shot each other? No," Cashell said later Thursday. "Am I 99.9 percent sure that they had an altercation and exchanged shots? Yes. But the investigation will confirm the facts."

Cashell also told those gathered in a Gallatin County courtroom Thursday reports that the killer stole the trooper's handgun were erroneous. All the weapons involved in the incident were recovered, he said.

Cashell said officials may not be able to determine exactly the circumstances that led up to the shooting. There were no witnesses to the incident.

"A lot of times we don't know what happened and why," he said. "We may never know what happened."


Update, 3:23 p.m. — At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell said Trooper DeLaittre exchanged gunfire with the man who killed him. 

"There were a number of rounds fired, multiple rounds, by both individuals," Cashell said. "Trooper DeLaittre was able to return fire toward the suspect."

Cashell said DeLaittre likely wounded suspected gunman Errol Brent Bouldin in the exchange.

"We do believe that the suspect was injured in the exchange with DeLaittre," the sheriff said. "However, we have not confirmed that, and as we sit here, the autopsies are taking place. We hope tomorrow or the next day we'll have some solid answers on what took place there."

Cashell also said earlier reports that the killer stole the trooper's handgun were untrue. All the weapons involved in the incident have been recovered, he said.

A more comprehensive update will be coming soon.


Update, 1:30 p.m. — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock released a statement Thursday, expressing his grief over the killing of Trooper DeLaittre.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Trooper DeLaittre's parents, his sisters and the circle of family and friends who loved him," Bullock wrote.

“That one of the Patrol’s young troopers -- just 23 years old -- should pay for his dedication to public service with his life is hard to comprehend," Bullock wrote. "It is so senseless."

In his statement, Bullock said that DeLaittre was sworn in as a Montana Highway Patrol trooper on Nov. 13, 2008, and that his father, Denis DeLaittre, worked for the patrol from 1988 to 1997.


Update, 9:45 a.m. — Belgrade Chief of Police E.J. Clark told the Belgrade News that suspected gunman Errol Brent Bouldin was arrested in Belgrade for driving drunk in 2008 and that he failed to appear in court, prompting the 2009 warrant. 

Gov. Brian Schweitzer issued a statement Thursday morning about the death of Trooper David DeLaittre.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, and we owe him a huge debt of respect and gratitude for his service," Schweitzer wrote in the statement.

"I ask all Montanans today to say a prayer for the DeLaittre family and for the entire Montana Highway Patrol force and their families. I ask all Montanans to think about and appreciate the risks these public servants accept every day as they face the challenge of keeping all our families and communities safe," the governor wrote.


Original Report: Montana Highway Patrol Trooper David DeLaittre, 23, was shot and killed near Three Forks while on duty late Wednesday afternoon.

The man suspected of shooting DeLaittre, Errol Brent Bouldin, 56, was found dead in his truck several hours later in Broadwater County, Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell told the Chronicle late Wednesday.

Cashell, who nearly broke down in tears during a press conference earlier in the night, released few details about the incident or what led up to DeLaittre's shooting along Montana Highway 2 just southwest of Three Forks at about 4:30 p.m.

"Things are unfolding as we sit here today," he said during the press conference, adding he and Montana Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Butch Huseby would not be taking questions.

Well over 100 state and local law enforcement officers searched into the night Wednesday for Bouldin, who was wanted on a warrant in Belgrade, according to the Belgrade Police Department's website, though it did not say for what crime.

Cashell said that Bouldin was found dead in his green Ford F-250 pickup truck that authorities had been searching for through the night. The sheriff did not release further details of how Bouldin died, although he said more information would be made available Thursday.

Public records show Bouldin had a previous address in Belgrade, although authorities said he was currently living in Three Forks.

DeLaittre, who lived in Three Forks and graduated from Three Forks High School, joined the Montana Highway Patrol in November of 2008, according to the Association of Montana Troopers.

When he was sworn in as an officer, his dad, a retired trooper, pinned the badge on his son.

According to the troopers association, DeLaittre "chose the patrol because he wanted to work for the most respected law enforcement agency in Montana."

Three Forks Mayor Gene Townsend said Wednesday evening that he had known David DeLaittre since the trooper "was a little kid."

"His dad was a highway patrol trooper," the mayor said. "(David) wanted to be in law enforcement his whole life."

This is the fourth death in the highway patrol in so many years, Huseby said. DeLaittre is the eighth and youngest trooper to have been killed in the line of duty and the first shot since 1978, according to the Montana Department of Justice.

"It gets kind of hard to take after awhile," Lt. Col. Huseby said. "They leave a lot behind. This two-year trooper lost his life doing what he loved to do and serving the public."

DeLaittre's parents are Dennis and Nancy DeLaittre, of Three Forks. He also left behind two younger sisters, Rebecca and Hannah.

Bouldin's ex-wife, Debra Bouldin of Camp Verde, Ariz., said in a telephone interview Wednesday night that she hasn't spoken to the suspected shooter since he left Arizona in January 2006, after nearly dying from a rattlesnake bite the year before. She said that experience left him a changed man.

"You know how when people have trauma they either become so thankful about everything about life or else they become bitter against life? Brent went to the bitter side," she said. "That was a very life-changing thing for him. What happened after that, I honestly can't tell you."

Jodi Hausen can be reached at jhausen@dailychronicle.com or 582-2630. Read her blog at jhausen.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @bozemancrime.

Chronicle staff and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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