A Valrico mother says she and her boyfriend were stopped at gunpoint by FBI agents searching for "prepper" Martin Winters.
Valrico, Florida - There's a YouTube video posted online by the River Otter Preppers, which is an organization 55-year-old Marty Winters belongs to. The video shows careful thought being put into stockpiling food underground in 55 gallon drums out in the woods all across Florida for the end of the world.
The FBI says Winters is a "prepper" and a survivalist. They say he preaches that the end is near. Rene Leach knows Winters and says, "This is Obama. Everybody worries about their rights being taken away. But that doesn't mean it's gonna happen. If it was, and someone was to attack his house and his family, he would be prepared."
There's nothing illegal about stockpiling food or weapons as long as it's done legally but, acting on a tip, the FBI has been investigating Winters for months. Agents spent Monday going through his Valrico home on Williams Boulevard, where they suspect he's been assembling small explosives, which is illegal.
The FBI says Winters took off from them on foot Monday morning at the corner of Turkey Creek Road and Cheryl Court in Plant City. They say he jumped out of his silver pickup truck when they tried to serve him with a search warrant. He hasn't been seen since.
Casey Kendell is one of Winters tenants, who says FBI agents stopped her and her boyfriend, Jason Swain, at gunpoint with her three small kids terrified in the back seat as they were heading out of town for a birthday party. Kendell says, "Why is my car getting smashed? They pulled me over and slammed my car with no sirens on, broke the windows out of my car. [They] threw flash bombs in the windows with my kids sitting right there, put guns to my temple and my chest and my neck."
Kendell say agents smashed her passenger door window and sliced her boyfriend's seat belt to get him out of the vehicle. She says her children, ages, 2, 4 and 7, are still shaken up over what happened. Her 8-year-old nephew was also in the vehicle.
Back at her home, she says agents broke down her door and searched her house. They took away a shell casing and some mail saying it was all related "to their investigation into Marty." She says, "They weren't going to find anything anyways. I'm not hiding nothing. What am I supposed to be hiding?"
Other tenants and neighbors tell 10 News there's no way Winters is guilty of setting booby traps or experimenting with explosives and teaching others how to do it, as the FBI says. It's just not in his character, they say. Vincent Bernard says, "He does a lot for this community. That produce stand that ya'll see over here? He fills that produce stand every day for low income families and for those who can't donate money to it ... he says, 'Take enough for a week for your family.'"
If you see Martin Winters, you're asked to contact the Tampa FBI Field Office at 813-253-1000.