WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — An escaped killer on the run in southeastern Pennsylvania has so far eluded hundreds of law enforcement officers — including tactical teams in full riot gear, sniffer dogs, police on horseback and aircraft — as the search entered its second week Thursday and nervous residents kept an eye out for any sign of the fugitive.
Danelo Souza Cavalcante, a 34-year-old from Brazil, escaped from the Chester County Jail on Aug. 31 by scaling a wall, climbing over barbed wire and jumping from a roof. The escape mirrored an earlier escape there in May and was not discovered by guards for a full hour, authorities say.
“This is a scandal. This should never have happened,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said at a news conference.
Since the escape, there have been eight sightings of what police believe could be Cavalcante, no later than midday Thursday, said Lt. Col. George Bivens of the state police.
A civilian saw someone who looked like Cavalcante walking through an area near Longwood Gardens, one of the country’s top botanical gardens. A surveillance camera on a hiking trail filmed Cavalcante walking through the garden area on Monday evening.
Residents were nervous, but the police presence calmed them down.
“I have never felt so scared and safer at the same time. It’s a really strange feeling,” said Jennie Brown, whose neighborhood is about 1.5 miles from the prison.
“A lot of neighbors had a police officer with a machine gun on their deck while they were sleeping,” said Brown, 53, who coordinated donations of water and other supplies for the searchers.
Authorities told them that Cavalcante was becoming increasingly distressed, Brown said. “I’m sure he is. I’m sure he’s hot, tired and emaciated.”
Bivens said the fugitive managed to obtain clothing and unknown supplies and there is now a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Wendy Hughes, who lives about two miles from Longwood Gardens, has resumed her morning walks but now carries pepper spray.
“I’m not scared, but it’s worrying,” she said. “You don’t want to have to think about it anymore.”
Cavalcante received a life sentence last month for killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her children in 2021. He escaped while awaiting transfer to state prison. Prosecutors say he killed her to prevent her from telling police that he was wanted for a 2017 murder in Brazil.
Authorities believe he tried to return to Brazil after murdering his ex-girlfriend. He was captured in Virginia.
The family of the woman killed is under police protection, Ryan said. “And they are afraid. They are barricaded in their house.”
The escape and search attracted international attention and made headlines in Brazil. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro published a lengthy article on Wednesday entitled “Dangerous hide-and-seek”.
The most recent annual reports show that Chester County reported only one escape from its facility from 2015 to 2022. This does not include the escape in May, in which an inmate similarly scaled the walls of the exercise yard entrance and climbed to the roof, jumped down and ran away. He was captured minutes later, officials said.
Howard Holland, acting warden of the Chester County Jail, said the jail brought in a consultant and installed barbed wire after that escape.
“Obviously it was inadequate. Hindsight is 20/20,” Hughes said.
In a harrowing encounter last Friday, someone – likely Cavalcante – broke into the home of nearby resident Ryan Drummond.
When he was woken by a noise in the kitchen around 11:40 p.m., he grabbed a framed family photo as a shield and then flickered the hallway lights from upstairs several times.
He felt a twinge of fear as the intruder threw her back.
“That was kind of a horrible moment where I quickly looked at (my wife) and said, ‘He’s in the house, call 911 immediately,'” Drummond said Wednesday.
“I saw him methodically, not panicking, walk out of the kitchen, walk into the living room toward the French window and walk out,” he said.
The police arrived within a minute, but not before Cavalcante, if it was him, was on the run again with a few pieces of fruit in his hand.
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