Residents of a suburban Philadelphia community locked themselves in their houses and at least one school district canceled classes as authorities indicated they were closing in on an escaped murderer who has evaded capture in the region for nearly two weeks.
Pennsylvania State Police posted on social media that the department was pursuing Danelo Souza Cavalcante in South Coventry Township, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the Chester County jail, from which he escaped Aug. 31.
Police warned that Cavalcante was armed and not to approach him, and asked the public to call 911 if they see him.
At least one school district said Tuesday it would close all schools and offices for the day, and another in the area planned to keep students indoors. Police closed roads in the search area. Video from a roadblock showed law enforcement officers stopping and checking vehicles leaving the area.
On Monday, state and federal officials pushed back against questions about whether they blew a chance to catch Cavalcante, saying the area where hundreds had been searching included deep woods, underground tunnels and drainage ditches. They also said it took more than two hours for news to reach them that he had been spotted outside the perimeter for the first time.
Cavalcante slipped out of the 8-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) search area over the weekend and stole a dairy delivery van that had been left unlocked with the keys in it. He abandoned it more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the search area after unsuccessfully seeking help at the homes of two former colleagues late Saturday, police said.
Lt. Col. George Bivens, of the Pennsylvania State Police, declined to say how he thinks Cavalcante slipped through the perimeter, but he said no perimeter is completely secure.
Cavalcante is desperate because he is reaching out for help from people with whom he hasn’t spoken in years, he said.
“The fact that he has reached out to people with a very distant past connection tells me he doesn’t have a great network of support,” Bivens said. “So I think he’s desperate and I’ve characterized him as that all along. And I think the longer we push him, the more resources, the more tools we bring to bear, we will ultimately capture him. He doesn’t have what he needs to last long-term.”
Bivens has said state police are authorized to use deadly force if Cavalcante doesn’t actively surrender and noted other agencies involved in the search may have their own rules.
Bivens declined to discuss whether Cavalcante has received assistance from others but said no such arrests have been made.
Cavalcante’s sister was arrested by immigration authorities, Bivens said. He said she was arrested for staying past her legally allowed period of stay and law enforcement had no reason to allow her to remain in the United States since she was not cooperating with the investigation.
Cavalcante, 34, broke out of the Chester County Prison — Pennsylvania calls its local jails prisons — while awaiting transfer to a state prison to serve a life sentence for fatally stabbing an ex-girlfriend in 2021. Prosecutors say he killed her to stop her from telling police that he was wanted in a slaying in his home country of Brazil.
To escape, Cavalcante scaled a wall by crab-walking up from the recreation yard, climbed over razor wire, ran across a roof and jumped to the ground. His escape went undetected for more than an hour until guards took a head count. The tower guard on duty was fired, officials said.
In Brazil, prosecutors in Tocantins state said Cavalcante is accused of “double qualified homicide” in the 2017 slaying of Válter Júnior Moreira dos Reis in the municipality of Figueiropolis, over a debt the victim owed him for repairing a vehicle.
U.S. authorities described Cavalcante as extremely dangerous. A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.
Craig Caine, a retired inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service who worked on the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, said there’s always a way to get through a perimeter.
The length of the manhunt is not unusual, Caine said. Searches for escaped prisoners have lasted four or five weeks, or even years, he said.
Wooded terrain is particularly difficult to search especially when someone as small as Cavalcante — he’s 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall — can easily camouflage themselves or climb into a tree, said Caine, who isn’t involved in the search efforts.
“They definitely have their work cut out for them now that he breached the perimeter and they don’t have a defined area to search,” he said. “This guy has nothing to lose. But law enforcement just has to get lucky once. This guy has to get lucky everyday he’s out there.”
Associated Press reporter Eléonore Hughes in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.