By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA and MARYCLAIRE DALE (Associated Press)
WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — An escaped murderer on the run in southeast Pennsylvania has so far eluded hundreds of law officers — including tactical teams in full combat gear, tracking dogs, cops on horseback and aircraft — as the search entered its second week Thursday and nervous residents stayed alert for any sign of the fugitive.
Danelo Souza Cavalcante, a 34-year-old from Brazil, escaped from the Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 by scaling a wall, climbing over razor wire and jumping from a roof. The breakout mirrored an earlier escape there in May and wasn’t detected by guards for a full hour, authorities say.
“This is an outrage. It never should have happened,” said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan at a news conference.
Since the escape, there have been eight sightings that police believe could be Cavalcante, the latest around noon Thursday, said state police Lt. Col. George Bivens.
A civilian saw someone who looked like Cavalcante running through an area near Longwood Gardens, one of the country’s top botanical gardens. A surveillance camera on a trial had captured Cavalcante walking through the garden grounds Monday night.
Residents were on edge but comforted by the police presence.
“I’ve never felt more scared and more safe at the same time. It’s a really strange feeling,” said Jennie Brown, whose neighborhood is about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the jail.
“Many neighbors had a police officer on their deck with a machine gun while they slept,” said Brown, 53, who is coordinating donations of water and other supplies for the searchers.
Authorities have told them Cavalcante is getting more desperate, Brown said. “I’m sure he is. I’m sure he’s hot and tired and emaciated.”
Bivens said the fugitive has managed to get ahold of clothing and unknown supplies, and there’s now a $20,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
Wendy Hughes, who lives about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Longwood Gardens, has resumed her morning walks but now carries pepper spray.
“I don’t feel scared, but it’s unsettling,” 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’s wanted in a 2017 killing back in Brazil.
Authorities believe he was trying to return to Brazil after the ex-girlfriend’s murder. He was captured in Virginia.
The slain woman’s family is under police protection, said Ryan, the county attorney general. “And they are terrified. They are barricaded inside their home.”
The escape and search have attracted international attention and became big news in Brazil. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro ran a lengthy story Wednesday with the headline “Dangerous hide-and-seek.”
The latest annual reports show Chester County reported only one escape from its facility from 2015 through 2022. That doesn’t include the May escape, when an inmate similarly crab-walked up the walls of the entrance to the exercise yard, climbed to the roof, jumped down and ran for it. He was captured minutes later, officials said.
Howard Holland, the acting warden of the Chester County Prison, said the jail brought in a consultant after the first escape in May and added razor wire.
“Obviously it was inadequate. Hindsight is 20/20,” Hughes said.
In a harrowing encounter last Friday, someone — likely Cavalcante — broke into nearby resident Ryan Drummond’s home.
Waking up to a noise in the kitchen at around 11:40 p.m., he grabbed a framed family photo as a shield then flickered the hall lights from upstairs several times.
He felt a jolt of fear when the intruder flicked them back.
“That was kind of the terrifying moment, where I like, looked at (my wife) quickly and said, ‘He is in the house, call 911 right now,’” Drummond said Wednesday.
“I saw him methodically, not panicked, walk out of the kitchen, in the living room toward that French door and walk out,” he said.
Police came within a minute but not before Cavalcante, if it was him, was on the run again with a few pieces of fruit in hand.
Dale and Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer reported from Philadelphia.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cavalcante’s first name to Danelo, not Danilo.