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Escaped Pennsylvania killer now armed with a stolen rifle and ‘extremely dangerous’

Pennsylvania police give update on search for escaped killer

(CNN) — The convicted killer who escaped from an eastern Pennsylvania prison nearly two weeks ago is considered “armed and extremely dangerous” after he stole a rifle from the garage of a local homeowner, who fired several shots at the fugitive as he fled, police said Tuesday.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, was spotted on Monday night about 20 miles north of the prison, according to an emergency alert. Authorities found footprints in the mud that were identical to his prison shoes, tracked the prints and found the shoes, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said.

Live updates: The latest on the manhunt

At about 10:10 p.m., police received a call from a nearby resident who said a man entered his garage and grabbed a rifle in the corner, Bivens said. The homeowner fired his pistol at Cavalcante as he fled, but there is “no reason to believe” he was injured, he said.

“I think he is just trying to survive and avoid being captured right now,” Bivens said.

About 500 law enforcement officers – including the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI, ATF, and the US Marshals – are searching the area around the shooting, and police have set up a perimeter stretching several miles in each direction.

“It’s a large area, wooded, hilly terrain. It’s not something that it’s a matter of sending a few people in and searching,” Bivens said.

Police also sent several reverse 911 calls to people within three miles warning them of the danger and told schools nearby to keep activities indoors. The .22-caliber rifle Cavalcante has in his possession has a scope and flashlight, Bivens said.

“We consider him desperate, we consider him dangerous,” he said. “I would suspect that he’s desperate enough to use that weapon.”

The latest sighting of Cavalcante brings a heightened sense of danger as the search enters its 13th day Tuesday.

The fugitive was spotted in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, according to the emergency alert, sent by Chester County officials Monday night to area residents via email and text message.

“Residents in the area are asked to lock all external doors and windows, secure vehicles, and remain indoors,” the alert read, adding that there were reports of the fugitive in the area of Ridge, Coventryville and Daisy Point roads, “possibly armed with a weapon.”

Video from WPVI shows a massive police response in the South Coventry Township overnight, with dozens of patrol cars and an armored vehicle converging on the scene.

The search and police activity led to school closures.

Owen J. Roberts School District in Chester County announced it would be closed Tuesday, according to a statement on the district’s website. Neighboring Downingtown Area School District did not close Tuesday, but four of its schools will remain indoors, the district wrote in a Facebook post.

Further, the Pottstown District Court is closing Tuesday “due to police activity and road closures,” and the Pottstown School District is conducting classes and activities indoors.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and Kennett Consolidated School District both closed for multiple days last week due to the search but are now open.

Nearly two weeks on the run

Cavalcante was being held at Chester County Prison, in a rural area some 30 miles west of Philadelphia, following his conviction last month of first-degree murder for the killing of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão.

He escaped from custody August 31 by putting his hands on a wall and his feet on another and “crab-walking” up to the roof, authorities said. He then pushed his way through razor wire, ran across a roof, scaled another fence, and got through more razor wire before escaping the compound, officials said.

Before Monday night, no sightings of Cavalcante had been reported since the weekend, when authorities say he slipped through a police search perimeter. Police say he stole a van, changed his appearance and showed up Saturday at the homes of people he knew years ago, more than 20 miles outside the search perimeter. He then ditched the vehicle in a field East Nantmeal Township and vanished, authorities said.

The weekend’s developments shifted the search for police, who had previously been focused on a search perimeter that included a botanical garden – just a few miles from the prison – where he was sighted multiple times.

Despite the shifting search areas, all reported sightings of Cavalcante so far have happened in Chester County.

On Saturday evening, Cavalcante appeared at the East Pikeland Township home of an acquaintance he’d known several years ago, Bivens said in a Sunday news conference.

He spoke with the acquaintance on a Ring doorbell camera, which captured his new clean-shaven look, but the person wasn’t home and did not respond to meet Cavalcante, Bivens said.

Cavalcante then tried to contact another acquaintance in the nearby Phoenixville area. That person was also not home but called police after a female resident saw the escaped inmate, according to Bivens.

“He needs additional help. He needs resources for the long run, and he is seeking those,” Bivens said in a news conference Monday afternoon.

While Cavalcante has so far managed to evade the hundreds of officers looking for him, police have said they don’t believe he’ll be able to cross state lines.

“I don’t believe he has the resources to get out of Pennsylvania,” Bivens said.

How Cavalcante has managed to stay on the run so long

Despite several sightings since his escape, police have said they’ve faced challenges as the unusually long search for Cavalcante dragged on – an effort one official has described as “tactical hide and seek.”

“We conduct fugitive investigations every day of the year across this commonwealth … most don’t lead to a protracted search like this,” Bivens said Monday.

Most escaped prisoners are captured within 24 hours, and most of them within two miles, CNN’s chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller said.

According to Bivens, the challenges in finding Cavalcante include:

  • The search beginning in a large, densely wooded area with many places to hide.
  • It was difficult to secure a search perimeter, where Cavalcante was spotted several times, because it had a “massive” underground tunnel system, large drainage ditches and thick vegetation.
  • Police didn’t get the calls from the acquaintance who Cavalcante tried to contact on Saturday until hours later.

“No perimeter is 100% secure. It’s not a wall, it doesn’t have a ceiling, it doesn’t have all of the things that you might normally use if you’re trying to contain someone,” Bivens said.

The Longwood Gardens area, where officers had earlier set up a perimeter, was a particular challenge, according to Bivens.

“We had tactical teams in there from multiple agencies and even then, it was problematic to try and capture him or to find him again,” Bivens said. “The cover is that dense and just a multitude of places to hide.”

Aerial video from September 8 showed officers on horseback in Kennett Square searching in grass so long and dense, it consumed the horses’ legs.

The early stages of the search in the woods played out to Cavalcante’s advantage, US Marshals Service Supervising Deputy Robert Clark said Monday.

“He was in an 8-square-mile area with very difficult train that was very difficult to get to,” Clark said.

But in an urban setting, the advantage is on law enforcement’s side, Clark said.

“He was playing that tactical hide and seek in the woods. Now, I believe it’s advantaged law enforcement because he’s in an urban setting and that’s what our investigators do,” Clark said Monday.

Timeline of known Cavalcante sightings

In addition to the murder of Brandão – he stabbed her 38 times in front of her two young children, according to prosecutors – Cavalcante is also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, his native country, a US Marshals Service official has said.

“Clearly he has been in residences, businesses and in vehicles – at least one – that I can’t say what may or may not have been in any of those locations that he had access to,” Bivens said Sunday.

Pennsylvania State Police have said there have been multiple credible sightings of the escaped inmate. Here’s what we know about some of the places police say Cavalcante has been to so far:

  • August 31: Cavalcante is seen on jail surveillance video escaping from Chester County Prison. The video showed him “crab-walking” between two walls in an exercise yard – placing his hands on one wall and his feet on another – and shimmying up out of view, said the prison’s acting warden, Howard Holland. Cavalcante then ran across a roof, scaled another fence and got through razor wire, Holland said.
  • September 1: Ryan Drummond, who lives in the township where the prison is located, said Cavalcante got into his Pocopson Township home and took food before leaving, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.
  • September 2: Cavalcante was spotted on surveillance video about 1.5 miles from the prison, authorities said.
  • September 4: A security camera recorded the fugitive at Longwood Gardens, about 3 miles from the prison, authorities said.
  • Friday: Authorities reported two sightings of Cavalcante within the search area. The area encompassed Longwood Gardens.
  • Saturday: Cavalcante stole the van and at 9:52 p.m. local time, he went to the home of the first acquaintance where he was seen on doorbell video. He then went to the home of another old work associate at 10:07 p.m. in Phoenixville area, according to Bivens, who said authorities learned of the sightings around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.
  • Sunday: The stolen van was found abandoned in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township at 10:40 a.m.
  •  Monday: Police send an alert saying Cavalcante was sighted in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, “possibly armed with a weapon.”