Search for escaped murderer enters eighth day

The search continues for Danelo Cavalcante in Pocopson Township, Pa., on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. Murderer Cavalcante was able to escape a prison yard in suburban Pennsylvania last week by climbing up a wall and over razor wire, officials said at a news conference Wednesday. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — As the hunt for an elusive murderer stretches into a second week, neighbors in southeast Pennsylvania say they are unsettled and perhaps frustrated — but not panicked — as hundreds of uniformed searchers dressed in full combat gear patrol their roads, neighborhoods, dense woodlands and the skies above.

Danilo 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.

He remained on the lam Thursday afternoon as the search entered its second week. The Chester County District Attorney’s Office planned to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t feel scared, but it’s unsettling. You don’t want to have to think about it anymore,” said Wendy Hughes, 60, of Chadds Ford, who has resumed her morning walks but now carries pepper spray with her, and had the added comfort of seeing a state trooper in the neighborhood Thursday morning.

She works from home and has not gone out much, but other residents have had to deal with roadblocks, intermittent lockdowns and school closures as sightings are reported.

“There’s some frustration, but it’s amazing on social media how critical people are. I’m thankful for the law enforcement officers. It’s a tough job, in this heat, in the terrain around here,” said Hughes, who heard a flurry of helicopter activity nearby just before midnight Wednesday. “Those conditions are probably wearing them down.”

Considered extremely dangerous, Cavalcante has since been spotted at least six times. Authorities continue to move and expand their search perimeter — now a vast area filled with forests and thick brush — while residents remain on edge.

Ryan Drummond, 42, had a harrowing encounter with the man believed to be the escapee when his home in Pocopson was broken into late Friday.

After awaking to a noise in the kitchen at about 11:40 p.m., he checked on his young kids, grabbed a framed picture of his family as armor, then flickered the hall lights from upstairs several times — and had fear pulse through him 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 from Drummond’s kitchen in hand.

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.

He had been captured in Virginia after the ex-girlfriend’s murder, and authorities believe he was trying to return to Brazil.

The escape and search have attracted international attention and became big news in Cavalcante’s native Brazil. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro ran a lengthy story Wednesday with the headline “Dangerous hide-and-seek.”

Howard Holland, the acting warden of the Chester County Prison, said the prison had brought in a consultant after the first escape in May and added razor wire to that area.

“They probably did what made sense, to consult an expert, but obviously it was inadequate. Hindsight is 20/20,” Hughes said.

One suburban Philadelphia school district which had shuttered this week said it planned to open five schools Thursday that are located outside the search perimeter. Another neighboring district said it reopened three schools late Wednesday and they would be open for classes on Thursday.

Longwood Gardens, one of the nation’s premier botanical gardens, planned to reopen Thursday morning. A trail surveillance video captured Cavalcante walking through the garden’s grounds on Monday night.


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