Hundreds of law enforcement officers scoured railroads, streams and roads in a suburban county near Philadelphia on Friday, searching for a man who escaped from prison a bit more than two weeks after being convicted of first degree murder.
Authorities said Friday that local, state and federal authorities were using “helicopters, drones and dogs” to track down convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from Chester County Jail on Thursday. He was last seen shortly before 10 a.m. by someone on his way to work at the prison, walking south and wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts and white sneakers.
“We believe he’s still in the general area,” Chester County District Attorney Deborah Ryan said at Friday’s press conference. “We believe he is hiding somewhere locally and is on his own.”
Ms Ryan said locals should be on “high alert” at the start of the Labor Day weekend, suggesting that they lock their doors and watch their children. “We have every reason to believe that he is considered unsafe at this time,” she said.
West Chester University, a public college about six miles from the jail, canceled classes for the day, citing “great caution”.
Mr. Cavalcante, 34, was sentenced to life in prison on August 22. Less than a week earlier, a jury had found him guilty of stabbing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, to death “in front of his two young children”. Ms Ryan said in a Facebook post last month.
After killing Ms. Brandao, in April 2021, Mr. Cavalcante attempted to return to his home country of Brazil, but was arrested by police in Virginia, the prosecutor said at the press conference. Ms Ryan suggested he might be heading south again. He was described as being five feet tall and speaking Spanish and Portuguese.
According to the prosecutor’s office, investigators learned after the arrest that Mr. Cavalcante was wanted for murder in Brazil. They concluded that he killed Ms. Brandao because she threatened to tell the police.
In a statement on Friday, Brazilian law enforcement authorities said Cavalcante had been accused of shooting and killing a man in November 2017, apparently in connection with a dispute over “an alleged debt related to the repair of a vehicle”. A warrant for his arrest in Brazil was issued in June 2018 and he was considered “a fugitive from justice”.
Edgar Larrea, who served as Mr. Cavalcante’s interpreter during his trial, described him as calm and aloof. “He sat there the whole trial, asking us no questions or emotions,” he said. “A very cold guy.”
But he also suggested that Mr Cavalcante could be on the run for a while. He “comes from the forests of Brazil, so he knows how to survive,” Mr. Larrea said. “He could be anywhere.”
Mr. Larrea was due to meet Mr. Cavalcante on Thursday morning at the jail, where he arrived with a public defender minutes before 10 a.m. to discuss an appeal. But they weren’t allowed in, he said, because correctional staff learned the moment they arrived that an inmate, who turned out to be Mr. Cavalcante, was missing, and the prison was closed.
Chester County Jail Acting Warden Howard Holland told a news conference on Thursday that the circumstances of the escape were being investigated, declining to give further details.
Mr Holland had been overseeing the prison since late July when former warden Ronald Phillips was placed on administrative leave. A county spokeswoman did not reveal why Mr Phillips had been furloughed, but said he had officially retired at a meeting of the prison board on Wednesday, the day before the escape of M. Cavalcante.
Local and federal authorities, including the US Marshals Service, have announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Mr Cavalcante’s capture.
Around the prison, located amid hills and cornfields, people were wary but didn’t seem shaken by the authorities’ warnings.
Wanda Bradley, 52, said she still plans to invite her children and grandchildren over for a barbecue this weekend.
“I won’t be discouraged, but we will keep an eye out,” she said.
When she heard the siren alerting the community to the breakout on Thursday, Nancye Lane, 78, at first thought she had lost track of the days. The prison typically tested this siren on Saturdays, she said. Then she realized: “Someone must have escaped,” she said.
Mrs. Lane thought, however, that living so close to the prison gave her some sort of security in the event of an escape. “The first thing they’re going to do is go as far as possible,” she said.
Ana Ionova contributed reporting from Brazil.