$5,000 reward offered for doomsday 'prepper'

VALRICO, Florida -- Doomsday "prepper" Martin Winters, 55, was still on the run Tuesday, and now $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.

Federal agents accuse Winters of illegally stock-piling weapons and assembling small explosives, but neighbors and friends paint a much different picture of Winters.

"He takes care of all of us," said neighbor Diana Jones.

Still outside Martin Winters' home, there are signs offering free food. A refrigerator inviting the hungry and needy to take what they want.

For years, neighbors say Winters has helped people, and they find the FBI's accusations he was illegally obtaining weapons and building small explosives difficult to believe.

"I think they definitely have him wrong," said Jones. "And if he's saving up it's because this is the way he feels."

"I've never heard him threaten a person and I don't believe he ever would," agreed neighbor Beverly Weaver.

There is sympathy here for Winters -- not necessarily his ideology, but his generosity. That's what makes the FBI think people could be helping the 55-year-old fugitive. Not that Winters may need help. He's been preparing to survive on his own for several years now.

Friends say the doomsday prepper, who preaches that the end of times is near, has food and supplies buried all over Florida, as shown in a YouTube video from his River Otters Preppers survivalist group.

Those who know him say Winters may be able to lay low for some time with or without help.

"We're hoping that Mr. Winters, or somebody that knows him, can reach out to him and just tell him to contact our office," said FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier.

It may be difficult, however, for the FBI to expect help from any of Winters' known associates. Several of them were also rounded-up Monday, likely fueling their distrust for the government. Still, Winters' status as a fugitive clouds the issue.

"Because most of the people I know who are his friends, myself included, you know, tend to be religious people and want to obey the laws even if we disagree with them," said Weaver.

The FBI says it has leads, but so far no sightings of Martin Winters.

In addition to the $5,000 reward for information leading to Winters arrest, the agency is also launching an ad campaign with Winters' picture and reward information on local billboards.

There is also growing concern that Winters may be armed at this point. That by now, he may have accessed a place where he had stashed weapons, or maybe someone is helping him.

The FBI says it knows Winters is highly regarded by those who know him, and made it clear they do not want a confrontation.

SEE ALSO:Mother terrified after FBI raids Valrico home


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