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Arrests shake a quiet town

GOULDSBORO, Pa. - This tiny, 19th-century town draws all kinds of people interested in all kinds of activities: fishing, hunting, boating - and, according to federal authorities, practicing to attack Fort Dix.

GOULDSBORO, Pa. - This tiny, 19th-century town draws all kinds of people interested in all kinds of activities: fishing, hunting, boating - and, according to federal authorities, practicing to attack Fort Dix.

"Who the hell would've thought you'd hear about a terrorist group up here?" sputtered contractor Bill Wyckoff. "Unbelievable."

Yesterday, people in the wooded, lake-dotted vacation community struggled to reconcile how such natural beauty may have hosted something so sinister. Authorities say five of the six men charged in the alleged plot spent time at a house here, traveling to a nearby shooting range to fire semiautomatic rifles, a shotgun and a 9mm handgun.

"It's too close to home," said Rep. Mario Scavello (R. Monroe), who represents part of Gouldsboro. "But it's such a rural area people can go in the woods and do anything they want."

The town is home to 4,639, but thousands come to partake of its mountains and waters, 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Recently, said Tom Austin, there's been an influx of year-round residents, so unfamiliar visitors don't necessarily stand out.

Austin, manager of Hometown Hardware, which sells all types of ammunition, said he was eager to see photos of the accused. "I want to know if they've been here," he said.

Authorities said at least five of the men stayed at a house on Eagles View Road, in the gated community of Big Bass Lake. Cassy Herman told the Associated Press that one - very polite - paid cash to rent her home in February. Within days, the community association's security office called her to complain about her tenants. The man later paid for damage to several outside lights.

A guard at Big Bass Lake turned away reporters yesterday, but photos on show the house to be a spacious, 5,000-square-foot structure with a hot tub, sauna, exercise room, spiral staircase and stone fireplace.

The property sleeps up to 14 in four bedrooms and promises a short drive to a beach and golf course. Rentals run $1,195 to $2,000 a week.

The town hugs a single main street, Route 507, which winds past three churches, a bank, a bait-and-tackle shop, and Carole's Magic Store. The Fire Department stands near a small post office, where a sign reads, "Apply for a U.S. Passport here."

At the Gouldsboro Tavern, the owner told KYW-TV that two men she presumed were among those arrested drank there, ordering Stoli on the rocks.

Gouldsboro is named for Jay Gould, the railroad baron whose fortune included the Erie-Lackawanna line. Gould co-owned a leather tannery at the village of Thornhurst, 10 miles west.

It's in Thornhurst that the men allegedly practiced their marksmanship at a state range tucked deep inside game land off a dirt road.

Tom Jones, a local pest-control contractor, said he and his friends were at the range shortly before Thanksgiving when a car with New Jersey license plates pulled up and four or five men got out. It is not known whether they were among those arrested Monday.

The men carried three AK-47 assault rifles - weapons the accused are not known to have possessed - and began firing at targets. Jones said they seemed not to understand sportsmen's etiquette. Their shell casings hit him on the head as he tried to concentrate on his own shooting.

Jones and his friends didn't say anything. "We were a little disturbed about it, but you don't approach somebody and tell them to get the hell out of Dodge when they have guns like that."

State Game Land 127 is one of 29 public ranges, consisting of target racks, earthen embankments and shooting tables. Hunters use the ranges to test their weapons before deer or bear season. Automatic weapons are not permitted.

"This is the first we have heard of any terrorist-type use of a public range," said Jerry Feaser, state Game Commission spokesman.

Steven Feszchak, a trucker from Blakeslee, was at the range yesterday. He found it hard to believe anyone could have fired an automatic without attracting attention.

"I think I would have noticed," he said.

John Miely, a pharmacist from nearby Tobyhanna, agreed it would be ludicrous to bring an assault rifle to a range. State game wardens check in at least once a day, and people pay attention to the arms and skills of fellow shooters.

"If I had an illegal firearm, I certainly wouldn't go to a public range to shoot," Miely said.

Yet federal authorities say the men arrested Monday were there.

Not far from the range, Bernice Wombacker explained yesterday how she and her husband, who run an excavation company, were taken aback last year when their insurance company tacked on a charge for "terrorist insurance."

"We were shocked - like terrorists are going to come to the little town of Thornhurst and Gouldsboro," she said. "Now we understand."