Martin Howard Winters: FBI searching for suspected doomsday prepper wanted on federal charges

The FBI is searching for a Valrico, Florida man it says was leading a group preparing for the end of the world by hoarding illegally-purchased assault rifles and building homemade destructive devices.
 
Martin Howard Winters, 55, forced a lockdown of Durant High School on Monday after he ran from investigators who approached him in Plant City, according to authorities. He got out of his car and ran into a wooded area.
 
"He could probably have been home by now if he just complied with law enforcement today, but now he has made the situation worse," said FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier.
 
A document laying out reasons the FBI wanted to search his property shows agents have been investigating him since as early as September.
 
In October, Winters was indicted on four counts of making a destructive device.
 
In the report, agents accuse him of designing traps and hiding weapons around his property specifically to target government agents.
 
Winters was known as the leader of the River Otter Preppers, a group preparing for an “end-of-times event as prophesied by the Book of Revelations,” the report says.
 
The report says he used “straw buyers,” a person who purchased the guns on his behalf, to obtain numerous AR-15s. He also fashioned destructive devices from metal tube pipes designed to fire 12-gauge shotgun shells.
 
Winters detailed his plans to an undercover agent, the report says, including a scenario that involved releasing propane gas in his home and setting it ablaze while he shot at agents from concealed positions.
 
He said 40 armed men in his neighborhood would be willing to participate in what he called his “last stand,” the report says.
 
He spent $200,000 in his preparations, which included burying AR-15 rifles – 50 of them, by his count – in barrels around his property, the report says.
 
A 2012 YouTube video specifically named in the report shows a man believed to be Winters digging up 50-gallon drums filled with food and supplies. 
 
"We are still in the manhunt mode," Couvertier said. 
 
But neighbors of Winters call it one big misunderstanding. They say Winters is known for his community fridge, which you can see sitting in his yard from the street. He's also known for having a giant flag dedicated to those who served our country.
 
ABC Action News spoke with Winters and aired a story about this flag in 2011. 
 
"He's not armed and dangerous. He's a very caring man. He's a very loving man. He protects his family, his friends. He's not like how they're portraying him," neighbor and longtime friend Rene Leach said. "I'm scared my friend is going to get shot with no chance."
 
The FBI is hoping for a peaceful resolution. Anyone who has seen Winters is being asked to contact the FBI Tampa Office at 813-253-1000.

 

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