BILLINGS, Mont. | A hitchhiker's chilling tale of being shot in a random drive-by along a rural Montana highway quickly unraveled when no gun could be found in the supposed perpetrator's pickup, authorities said Monday.
Ray Dolin told police earlier this month that he had been shot while traveling across the country to put together a photo memoir on the kindness of people he met along the way.
But as doubts about his story grew, deputies returned to the shooting scene along U.S. Highway 2 west of the farming community of Glasgow, where they found a Derringer pistol in a nearby field, Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier said.
Police traced the weapon and discovered the 39-year-old Dolin had purchased it in his home state of West Virginia just days before the June 9 shooting.
Authorities now say Dolin shot himself in the arm in what appears to have been a hoax intended to promote his book. Dolin has confessed to making up the story, Meier said.
"To have someone come into our community and make a hoax that makes us look like were a bunch of criminals shooting people — that disturbs us greatly in northeastern Montana," Meier said. "We're good people."
Authorities initially arrested Lloyd Christopher Danielson III of Tumwater, Wash., in the shooting. He was cleared four days later, but remained in custody Monday in Roosevelt County on a charge of driving under the influence.
Danielson had denied involvement in shooting with a conviction that Meier said raised his suspicions.
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After searching Danielson's vehicle, authorities found no gun and no bullets. But they did find a GPS that included information on Danielson's travels — putting him miles away from the shooting scene at the time Dolin had said it occurred.
Dolin is being treated for the gunshot wound at a Veterans Affairs hospital. Valley County Attorney Nick Murnion is reviewing the case and charges are pending.
Dolin could be charged with tampering with evidence and providing false information to law enforcement. Agents from three federal agencies including the FBI assisted in the case. Meier estimated his department racked up $4,500 in overtime during the investigation.
Aside from all the time spent on the case and the worries the shooting stirred in surrounding communities, Meier said he would like to see Dolin arrested so he can receive treatment through the criminal justice system.
"If the guy came out here to kill himself, that's not normal mental activity," the sheriff said. "If they guy came out there to perpetrate a hoax, I don't think that's normal activity either for a person with no mental problems."
Dolin, a freelance photographer, told The Associated Press in the aftermath of the shooting that he was traveling across Montana on the way to Washington state to collect material for his book.
He said he thought up the project several years ago while at West Virginia State University, and in just a few days of hitchhiking had already encountered several strangers who had showed the type of compassion that he hoped to document.
Since authorities revealed that they think Dolin shot himself, he has not returned telephone messages seeking additional comment.