In the fall of 1993, David Brian Evans left his job as a civil engineer at a firm in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and never picked up his last paycheck.
Three years later, his estranged eldest son, then 19, thought he saw Evans sitting alone at a Bel Air restaurant where he worked as a busboy, and then he was gone. Later that year, detectives wanted to question Evans after his ex-wife was shot as she left her Abingdon home for work, but they never found him.
Evans was so elusive that a Pennsylvania probate judge declared him dead as of New Year's Eve 1997.
Now Harford County authorities are trying to understand how Evans reappeared nearly 20 years later and shot and killed Deputies Patrick Dailey and Mark Logsdon at a busy shopping center and nearby apartment complex in Abingdon this month before being killed by deputies who returned gunfire.
The Harford County Sheriff's Office says it has launched a wide-ranging investigation into the shootings that also explores the department's response when relatives spotted Evans in the area recently and called authorities to warn them, and what happened when a multistate search failed to find Evans decades ago.
The department kept searching for Evans for at least a year and a half after the 1996 shooting, according to court documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Department officials declined to answer questions, citing the ongoing investigation.
Jeremie Evans talks about his father, David Brian Evans, who was killed after he allegedly shot and killed two Harford County sheriffs after an encounter at an abingdon Panera. (Jessica Anderson/Baltimore Sun video)
The picture of Evans that emerges from public records and interviews is of a man who left few clues for those looking for him.
"You see a man that always … left just in the nick of time," says his eldest son, Jeremie Evans, who is now 38 and lives in Towson.
Still, there were clues to his whereabouts over the years, which raise more questions about how David Evans wasn't found.
In 1999, for instance, Evans fled a police officer attempting to pull him over in Florida, only to turn himself in weeks later at a police station outside Orlando, according to records obtained by The Sun.
Because no warrant had been issued for Evans in Maryland in connection with his ex-wife's shooting — authorities determined they didn't have probable cause to do so — law enforcement experts said Florida police wouldn't have known he was wanted for questioning here.
Jeremie Evans said he worries law enforcement went unknowingly into an encounter with his father once again. Jeremie said his brother called the sheriff's office in early January to report seeing him, and that his mother visited the office and called the day of the shootings to say there had been another sighting at Panera Bread.
He married his wife, Elizabeth, and the Evans family lived in Georgia when Jeremie was born in 1977. They moved to Parkville in Baltimore County, where Jeremie's younger brother and sister were born in the early 1980s. The family later moved back to Georgia until the parents' divorce in 1989.
Turmoil at home
Jeremie Evans recalls a father who was highly critical, violent and a heavy drinker.
"He would just focus on the mistake you made or you didn't do something right," he said. "In my family, it was like you walked on eggshells. You tried to do everything perfectly. You actually wanted him to be drinking because when he was drinking, he was medicated."
Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler talks about the shooting earlier this morning, and witnesses describe the scene from inside the restaurant. (David Anderson, Bryna Zumer and Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)
His father hopped from one engineering job to another, he said.
"He isolated himself from other people," he said. "He was a loner. And he was very good at it."
In 1989, his wife filed for divorce. In court papers filed in Gwinnett County, Ga., she alleged her husband had struck her in the face and that she "was forced to call the police." He denied the allegations, according to court documents.
A judge granted the divorce by the end of the year. Evans was later found in contempt of court over unpaid alimony and child support, records show.
Jeremie Evans, his mother and siblings moved back to the Baltimore area.
After the divorce, David Evans had visitation rights with the three children. Jeremie Evans said that after an incident in which his father choked him when he was 14, Child Protective Services investigated, and he did not have to see his father anymore.
The court order was part of an estate case in the Orphans' Court of York County, Pa., the last place Evans' siblings knew that he had lived. When their father died in 2011, he had wanted his estate to be divided evenly among his four children, but no one could find David Evans.
By that time, no one in the family had heard from Evans in two decades, court records show. He never contacted his last known employer after quitting, according to court papers.
His sister, who handled the estate of their late father, hired a private investigator in Florida to locate him because a database showed that someone with a similar name lived in the Orlando area.
Still, no one found him.
"We note that various investigations were completed, not only by his sister, but also by a private investigation firm that was hired to attempt to find him," York County Common Pleas Judge John S. Kennedy wrote. "All the requirements of the statute have been met. … Accordingly, we would enter a decree declaring that [Evans] would be declared dead as of December 31st, 1997."
The order doesn't explain why that date was chosen.
Evans' siblings did not respond to requests for comment.
Carol Sikov Gross, an attorney in Pennsylvania, said it's very rare for a judge to declare someone dead in an Orphans' Court proceeding — she's never had it happen in one of her cases in 20 years.
The law requires a reasonable search before a judge can take such an action, Sikov Gross said. Next of kin are expected to plumb online records, run legal ads in newspapers and take other steps.
But it can be hard to document proof of life or death. The IRS, for example, typically won't release information about annual tax returns; the Social Security Administration warns that its database of deaths is not comprehensive; and what driver's license information can be released varies from state to state.
In television shows, investigators always find a key clue, but in real life family members can be left with few leads, Sikov Gross said.
"They're always much cleverer on television," she said.
But Donnie Young, a licensed private investigator in Florida and retired FBI agent, said tracking Evans down should have been "fairly easy" for a private investigator. In Florida, with its permissive open-records laws, it would be difficult for someone using his or her real name to stay hidden for long, Young said. And while private investigators don't have access to all the databases available to police, he said they do have the ability to search records and systems not available to the general public.
The ex-wife of a man who fatally shot two Harford County deputies called police to alert them to his presence at a Panera Bread in Abingdon before they responded to the scene Wednesday, her sister said.
"The big determiner is how good are they at hiding?" Young said.
The firm hired by Evans' family did not respond to a request for comment.
Sighting in Florida
In the spring of 1999, Evans had a brush with the law in Winter Park, Fla., near Orlando. According to police records, an officer responded to a call for a suspicious vehicle reported by a caller who said the tags did not belong on the car.
Later, the officer tried to pull over a man who was driving the car — later identified as Evans — but the driver accelerated in front of a school bus, spinning his tires, and later jumped over a concrete median. Amid heavy traffic, the officer "broke off from the traffic stop," according to a police report.
Two weeks after the attempted traffic stop, Evans turned himself in. He was issued four citations for violations that included reckless driving.
Evans was sentenced to six months of supervised probation, a $25 fine, 40 hours of "alternative community service," and a 20-day suspended sentence, Florida court records show.
It's unlikely that records of an investigation in Maryland would have been available to Florida authorities in national law enforcement databases if a warrant for Evans' arrest was never issued, said Lucian Gandolfo, a retired senior FBI agent.
The Harford County sheriff's office probably keeps records about suspects like Evans in its internal files, he said.
In 2012, a Mercedes-Benz registered to David Evans received an automated traffic citation in Florida. His address listed on the ticket was a lakefront home on 2 acres in Altamonte Springs, a suburban area north of Orlando.
Evans was in Florida as late as last April, according to police records. An officer with the Maitland Police Department outside Orlando approached Evans' car early one morning in the parking lot of an office building. The policeman quickly concluded that Evans was living in the vehicle.
"Trash everywhere, dirty clothes on the seats, and a strong odor of body sweat," he wrote in a report.
Evans told the officer he worked at the building and decided to take a nap because he had arrived early for work that day. But when the officer relayed the car's tag information to his dispatcher, Evans got nervous, according to police records. It turned out the tags were stolen.
Evans started the car and sped away without turning his lights on, hitting approximately 70 mph and eluding the police.
He was issued several citations but never showed up for court, online records show, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
That warrant was outstanding when authorities say Evans killed Logsdon and Dailey. It's unclear whether deputies who responded knew about that warrant or about Evans being a suspect in the decades-old shooting.
Suspect in shooting
The sheriff's office has released some information about the 1996 shooting. Spokeswoman Cristie Kahler said detectives almost immediately identified David Evans as a suspect after Elizabeth Rupp, Jeremie's mother, reported being shot in the neck while getting into her car outside her Abingdon home about 5:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve.
The sheriff's office worked with law enforcement agencies in Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia to try to find him. While Evans remained a suspect, police did not have enough evidence to charge him, Kahler said.
In the summer of 1998, Harford County prosecutors sought Evans' address from the county library system, court records show. An assistant state's attorney wrote in a motion for disclosure that Evans was being investigated for attempted murder in connection with the shooting and "vanished from this area" after the incident. Then Evans had "been seen as a patron at the Bel Air Branch of the library," the assistant state's attorney wrote.
A judge ordered the library to release the address. Evans still was not found.
The county's law department has not responded to requests under the Maryland Public Information Act for 911 tapes related to the Feb. 10 shooting and documents related to the 1996 shooting. Kahler said the sheriff's office plans to discuss its investigation at a news briefing in the next few weeks.
Logsdon's parents declined to comment.
Aimee Grebe, who was Dailey's girlfriend, said she had questions about the shootings but declined to comment further.