Police teams searching remote rural area for thief who fled Harper area after gunfire

VALE – More than a dozen police officers were searching for an armed man in the high desert hills on the Harney-Malheur County line Tuesday afternoon after a theft at a local ranch went awry.

Travis Johnson, Malheur County undersheriff, said deputies from the Harney County Sheriff’s Office and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office along with the Oregon State Police are pursuing an unidentified man who stole a tractor and a side-by-side recreational vehicle from a ranch north of Harper early Tuesday morning.

Johnson said the incident began at about 3:40 a.m. when a man driving a stolen pickup truck pulled into an unoccupied ranch and loaded the tractor and side-by-side onto a trailer. Johnson said an alert neighbor called 911 and then approached the ranch and fired a shot into the air.

At that point, said Johnson, the individual in the truck fired back at the neighbor. Johnson said the owner of the ranch was out of to town.

Johnson said the neighbor followed the truck and trailer west on U.S. Highway 20.

“At some point going up the canyon above Harper, the trailer came unhooked from the pickup,” said Johnson.

Johnson said driver of the pickup truck eventually turned onto a side road and disappeared. Police discovered the abandoned pickup truck just inside the Harney County line.

“We’ve been searching up there for him today with a number of resources and air assets,” said Johnson.

Johnson said police did recover a small-caliber rifle from the recreational vehicle.

Johnson said area residents should consider the man armed and dangerous and to report any suspicious activity immediately to police.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.