"He had a propensity to escape jail. He was very good at it," said Mike Shambaugh, police chief in the northeast Oklahoma town of Jay, recalling three jail escapes by the now 31-year-old Willcoxson. "He was the poster child for always trying to escape. ... It seemed like he was always getting out."
Willcoxson, who now lives in southwest Missouri, was charged Thursday with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and armed criminal action and ordered held on $1 million cash bond. No lawyer was listed in online records. More charges are expected. Rolla Police Chief Mark Kearse said a state Highway Patrol trooper arrested Willcoxson, who is from Southwest City, after he tried sneaking into Fort Leonard Wood using a suspicious-looking ID. His motives for trying to get into the Army post were not immediately clear.
Instead of leaving when ordered, Willcoxson rapidly accelerated and drove through a security gate, leading military police on a chase until he drove out another gate where local law enforcement took up the pursuit along the heavily travelled Interstate 44.
St. Robert Police Chief Curtis Curenton said officers had been on I-44 for only a couple miles when the driver began firing shots from what appeared to be an AK-47. Curenton said he followed the gunman about 32 miles to Rolla when his driver's-side mirror was hit with one round and his engine compartment was hit by another.
Kearse said Willcoxson fired dozens of shots at him and other officers from several departments, reloading the assault rifle as he drove.
"He stuck his AK out and probably shot at least 15 to 25 rounds at cars behind us," Kearse said. "I can't believe nobody was hit with the way he was shooting out the windows."
Willcoxson was bleeding and may have been shot in the arm or hand, but otherwise no one was hurt, Kearse said. He also said police found crystal methamphetamine in Willcoxson's car.
Officers put "stop sticks" on the road and punctured a tire before Willcoxson reached Rolla, home to Missouri University of Science and Technology. Police said he was soon forced to ditch the vehicle just before 9 a.m. near the 7,200-student college, where spring classes ended last week. He reportedly entered McNutt Hall, which houses the school's Department of Mining and Nuclear Engineering.
Campus police issued an alert telling those on campus to remain indoors and everyone else to stay away. The suspect left campus without firing a shot, campus police said. The campus remained locked down until nearly 2 p.m., almost an hour after Willcoxson was arrested.
Willcoxson is accused of breaking into a nearby home and driving away in the homeowner's Ford Taurus after demanding the keys. He was caught on a county road south of Rolla and did not resist arrest, authorities said.
Much of Rolla was shut down while the manhunt unfolded, including the main highway into town as well as local public schools. The pursuit passed Rolla High School, Kearse said.
"There were citizens all over," he said. "He drove in front of the high school and stared at me. There were students behind me, so I didn't fire."
Kearse said Willcoxson provided an address in Pulaski County, near the military base. He may now be living in the county.
Willcoxson was released from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in 2008 after serving about 3 1/2 years for burglary, escaping from jail and other felonies.
He was among nine inmates who attacked a jailer and fled on foot from the Delaware County Jail in Oklahoma a decade ago. He had escaped at least one other time previously, and authorities suspected him of masterminding the jail break.
During the escape, a prisoner attacked the jailer, stole his keys, kicked in the door to the sheriff's office and stole a .22-caliber rifle before all nine slipped out the side door of the courthouse, the Tulsa World reported at the time. Willcoxson remained at large for nearly three years before he was arrested in Texas in 2003.
Shambaugh still remembers chasing Willcoxson through the woods and failing to catch him after one of the escapes from the antiquated county jail.
"His name is synonymous around here with that," Shambaugh said.
"He knew the land very well around here. That was one of the big reasons why he was so hard to catch," Shambaugh added. "He knew every back road. He was just well acquainted with the land." Shambaugh said that despite his previous escapes, Willcoxson had never been violent in Oklahoma.
"That's a different person than he was back then. There weren't weapons involved."