(NEW YORK) — An escaped killer on the loose in Pennsylvania slipped through a police perimeter and was recorded on a trail camera in a nearby botanical garden, prompting authorities to expand the focus of their search for the “dangerous” fugitive on Tuesday morning, officials said.
Police suspect Danelo Cavalcante might still be hiding in Longwood Gardens, a sprawling horticulture attraction about 5 miles southwest of the prison he escaped from six days ago in Pocopson Township.
“He’s trying to escape and that’s what he managed to do. He found a point that he could squeeze through that perimeter and he traveled south,” Lt. Col. George Bevins, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Bevins said Longwood Gardens, which was closed on Tuesday due to the search, is just south of a perimeter police had established in a residential area where Cavalcante was spotted Sunday night by a state trooper.
The 34-year-old Cavalcante was recorded twice on the private trail camera set up at Longwood Gardens, Bevins said. He said the escapee was first recorded at 8:21 p.m. Monday walking north in the gardens and was captured by the same camera at 9:33 p.m. walking south.
Bevins showed grainy black-and-white images taken from the trail camera of Cavalcante. Bevins pointed out that the fugitive was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a backpack and a duffle bag, items he is suspected of stealing since his Aug. 31 escape from the Chester County Prison.
He said the owner of the private trail camera contacted police immediately after checking the camera.
Bevins estimated that “several hours” elapsed between the time Cavalcante was recorded on the camera and when officers analyzed the footage and confirmed it was him.
“You’re dealing with someone who is desperate and doesn’t want to get caught,” Bevins said. “He’s a bad guy. He needs to be in custody and we’re determined to capture him.”
The latest sighting of Cavalcante came a day after he was spotted from a distance in a residential area of Pocopson Township by a state trooper, who gave chase but lost the wiry 5-foot-tall, 120-pound fugitive, Bevins said.
Bevins said the trooper saw Cavalcante, who is also wanted in his native Brazil on homicide charges, in the same general area where the fugitive was recorded on a residential Ring doorbell camera early Saturday about 1.5 miles from the Chester County Prison.
After getting a briefing on the search from law enforcement officials, the Kennett Consolidated School District canceled classes on Tuesday. The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District also announced it will operate on a flexible instructional schedule on Tuesday.
Bevins said the latest sighting of Cavalcante has caused police to expand the perimeter of the search. He said efforts to catch Cavalcante are intensifying with more resources being deployed in hopes of pressuring him to the point he gives up or makes a mistake.
“I intend to stress him. I want to push him hard. He’ll make mistakes. He’ll show himself. He’s already shown himself, we believe, a few times,” Bevins said at a news conference Monday.
Bevins said investigators got Cavalcante’s mother to record a message asking her son to surrender peacefully. He said the message was being broadcast from police helicopters and vehicles in the search area.
He said the message from Cavalcante’s mother, who is from Brazil, is recorded in her native language of Portuguese.
Cavalcante’s escape came about a week after he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering his ex-girlfriend, 38-year-old Deborah Brandao, who prosecutors said was stabbed 38 times in front of her two young children, ages 4 and 7, at a home in Schuylkill Township. A Chester County jury convicted Cavalcante after just 15 minutes of deliberations.
Prosecutors said Brandao was killed after she learned Cavalcante was wanted for murder in Brazil and threatened to expose him to police.
Following Brandao’s murder, Cavalcante fled to Virginia, where he was arrested and brought back to Pennsylvania to face justice for Brandao’s killing.
Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County Prison on Thursday. He was discovered missing from the prison around 8:50 a.m. He was being held there pending transfer to a state correctional institution.
The escape remains under investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and the state police.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan declined to provide details Monday on the circumstances of the breakout.
“The prison is very aware of the vulnerabilities that they have and they have made efforts to correct those vulnerabilities,” Ryan said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a statement on social media Monday advising residents of Pocopson Township to remain vigilant, keep their doors and windows locked and report anything suspicious to authorities immediately.
Bevins said police have investigated two home burglaries reported in the area since the escape, adding, “I can’t confirm it was him, but they are of interest to us.”
It was the second time in less than two months that a dangerous inmate had escaped from a Pennsylvania prison. Inmate Michael Burham, who is a suspect in the rape and murder of a 34-year-old woman in Jamestown, New York, escaped from the Warren County Jail in northern Pennsylvania on July 6.
Burham, an Army reserve sergeant who authorities said was a “self-taught survivalist,” was captured on July 15 following a massive manhunt in the northern Pennsylvania woods.
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