BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP — Barnegat officials said Thursday afternoon that they believe escaped convict Arthur Buckel is no longer in the area.
Sgt. Jeffrey Ryan said police on Thursday started returning to more regular schedule after more than 24-hours of searching for Buckel. Schools will stall have a police presence on Friday.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections, which has taken the lead on the investigation, did not comment on how Buckel may have escaped the area or why authorities believe he is no longer in Barnegat.
A Department of Corrections spokesperson said they do not want to tip off Buckel as to where they’re now searching.
For Barnegat Mayor John Novak, the news that Buckel reportedly left the area served was a relief for on-edge residents.
“I’ve been getting phone calls and emails all last night. People were concerned, people had questions,” Novak said. “This is not normal for Barnegat. Baseball games, softball games and people taking bike rides, that’s normal for Barnegat.”
Buckel, 38, was discovered missing Tuesday from the Bayside State Prison unit at Ancora in Winslow Township in Camden County during a morning headcount.
Winslow Township police described Buckel as 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds. He has brown hair, blue eyes and a small tattoo under his left eye.
Despite some nervousness and unrest in the town, schools remained open on Thursday.
Police were present as students were dropped off in the morning. Parents praised school officials for keeping them “in the loop.” Lynn Dennerlein, parent of two, said her children were escorted from the parking lot to school.
At about 8 a.m, police cruisers were in the parking lot of Cecil S. Collins Elementary School. As parents pulled into the lot to drop of their children, two officers stood nearby surveying the parade of vehicles.
On Thursday afternoon, pre-school children arriving in a bus were just beginning their own school day. Lorraine Kipila, 67, held her grandson’s hand as she walked him toward the bus.
“My son in law was kind of scared to send the kids to school, but I said that the cops were there,” Kipila said.
Buckel was three weeks away from parole eligibility, according to the state Department of Corrections website. He was serving a three-year sentence on aggravated assault, burglary and drug charges.
Previously, Buckel was 18 when he killed his girlfriend’s 10-month-old daughter in 1995 by slapping the girl to death because she was crying, the Jersey Journal reported.
On Wednesday morning, Buckel allegedly left a stolen 2015 Chevy Silverado in a CVS parking lot on Bay Avenue.
That day, authorities searched for along roads and in backyards for the convict. Police used bloodhounds, but the dogs lost his scent in the rain Wednesday, police said.
The incident rattled the township, and also became the most popular topic of discussion.
“Every minute or two someone is talking about it,” Wawa employee Anthony Curren said. “I wouldn’t say people [were] afraid. It’s more like ‘wow, something is actually going on around here.’ It’s crazy though. It’s like something out of a movie.”