Escaped Pennsylvania prisoner now armed with a stolen rifle and ‘extremely dangerous,’ police say
Sep 12, 2023, 11:31 AM | Updated: 11:31 am
(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 in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, about 20 miles north of the prison, according to an emergency alert.
At about 10:10 p.m., police received a call from a resident who said a shirtless male entered his garage and grabbed a rifle in the corner, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a news conference. The homeowner fired his pistol at Cavalcante as he fled, but there is “no reason to believe” the fugitive was injured, Bivens said.
A green sweatshirt and white tee shirt were found near the homeowner’s driveway, he said.
“I think he is just trying to survive and avoid being captured right now,” he said.
Bivens later told CNN the fugitive ran into the garage while the homeowner was sitting right there. He said the gun had not been left unsecured so he did not believe the homeowner was being irresponsible.
The shooting and gun theft represent a stark escalation in the dangerous manhunt after Cavalcante escaped the county jail on August 31.
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. 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.
“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.
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.”
Police sent several reverse 911 calls to people within three miles warning them of the danger. An emergency alert sent Monday night to area residents asked them “to lock all external doors and windows, secure vehicles, and remain indoors.”
The Owen J. Roberts School District in Chester County announced it would be closed Tuesday, and several other school districts announced all classes would be indoors.
Finally, Bivens defended law enforcement’s actions during the extensive search, saying they were trying to find a needle in a haystack.
“Nothing has gone wrong,” he said.
Local resident heard gunshots from home
The shooting on Monday night came several hours after Cavalcante was sighted in the area.
At about 8 p.m., a driver noticed a man crouched near the wood-line of a road just west of Route 100, Bivens said. Law enforcement went to that location and found footprints in the mud that were identical to Cavalcante’s prison shoes, and they tracked the prints and eventually found the shoes, he said.
A resident in the area also reported that a pair of work boots had been stolen from her porch, Bivens said.
Jason Mesiarik, an East Nantmeal resident, told CNN he heard the gunshots that were fired during the encounter between his neighbor and the fugitive.
“I had just finished feeding our horses when I heard the gunshots a minute or two after ten and called it in,” Mesiarik said. “I heard about seven low-caliber shots in quick succession.”
Mesiarik, who owns a farm on Coventryville Road, said he called police to report the gunshots. Mesiarik also told CNN that even though it’s common to hear gunshots in the area, which is mostly farmland, the type of gunshots he heard Monday evening were out of the ordinary.
“You never hear gunshots at night and usually I’m hearing a lot larger calibers, shotguns, targets, but this one sounded like a .22.”
Around 2 a.m. Tuesday, police also knocked on Mesiarik’s door to search for Cavalcante, he said.
“Pennsylvania State Police showed up in full tactical gear. They knocked on the doors and cleared the barns,” Mesiarik said. “It was important to us that they made sure everything was clear and with that we were able to get some sleep.”
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.
According to prosecutors, he stabbed her 38 times in front of her two young children in Pennsylvania in April 2021. He was arrested several hours later in Virginia, and authorities said he was attempting to flee to Mexico and intended to later head to Brazil, his native country.
In addition, Cavalcante is wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, a US Marshals Service official has said.
He escaped from custody 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.
Since then, he has been spotted a number of times in the Chester County area, including multiple times at a botanical garden. Police surrounded an area of several square miles that they termed a search perimeter to try to catch him.
Yet on Saturday, he shaved his beard, stole a van and showed up at the homes of people he knew years ago more than 20 miles outside the search perimeter.
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. 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.
Cavalcante ditched the stolen van in a field in East Nantmeal Township and vanished, authorities said. The vehicle was found Sunday.
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 described the search as unusually challenging and 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.
In this case, though, Cavalcante has managed to evade capture in a large, densely wooded area with many places to hide.
“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 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.
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