10/11/2014 02:33 EDT | Updated 12/11/2014 05:59 EST

Peter DeGroot, Slocan, B.C. Manhunt Suspect, Still At Large As Residents Return Home

B.C. RCMP Handout

SLOCAN CITY, B.C. - The man at the centre of an RCMP manhunt in this small, southern British Columbia community is being described by his neighbours as someone who loves his animals, but is a loner.

Peter DeGroot, 45, has been identified by police as their suspect and as someone who is armed and dangerous.

Police say when they investigated a dispute between two people, a man armed with a rifle shot at police. He then fled into the woods when police returned fire.

"I heard a pop, pop, pop," said Patty Burge, who was watching TV two doors down.

"I got up to look out the window and there was a lot of RCMP on the street. I opened the door and the officer told me to get back into the house."

Patty and her husband Jim have lived two doors away on the same street as DeGroot for about a year.

They say he has been living in his van for the past year on the lot that has a small barn on it. His animals include cows, pigs and 25 chickens.

"We had no trouble with him. He was soft-spoken and quiet," said Patty.

"He loves his animals more than life itself. He was being evicted by the owner's son-in-law and this is what started the altercation."

She said DeGroot had fallen on hard times over the past year and was having problems feeding his animals.

"We never had any problem with him. He just wanted to live in peace by himself and with his animals. They're his whole family," she said.

As an RCMP helicopter flew overhead, Jim Burge suggested police will have a difficult time finding DeGroot and an even harder time getting him to give up.

"I think he would be a difficult man to find," he said. "I don't think he would surrender."

The village of 300 is a heavily treed hodgepodge of cabins, mobile homes and houses. The streets are wide and the occasional individual could be seen walking down the streets.

The police presence was still heavy on Saturday. RCMP officers guarded the entrances to the town, and they were asking departing people to pop their trunks on the off chance that the missing suspect was hiding inside.

Police say DeGroot is known to them, but they aren't aware of any criminal record.

At the RCMP command post, located in the Village of Slocan office, a number of officers wearing camouflage were preparing for another day of searching the woods surrounding the community.

The officer in charge said most residents will be allowed in — except for those living near where the incident took place.

"It's kind of a low-key kind of thing. We still have checkpoints in place to check people coming in and out, but people are going to be allowed to come into their homes as of today," said Staff Sgt. Don Smawley.

"There is limited access. We are urging the public to be cautious and limit their outdoor activities if they can."

Smawley said the search will continue using officers, helicopters and search dogs.

But he acknowledged it's a tough area to search.

"It's a very vast area. It's remote. It's rugged. Lots of places for an individual to hide if they want to. Right now, the search continues."

Police issued an appeal late Saturday asking DeGroot to contact them, saying they haven't ruled out the possibility the suspect can access media coverage.

"We want to ensure this situation ends peacefully and so we ask you to connect with police, and come in, so we can talk," police said in a statement.

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