Police Defend Strategy in Manhunt for Danelo Cavalcante as They Pursue Him in South Coventry Township

Law enforcement officers gather as they search for escaped convict Danelo Cavalcante in Glenmoore, Pa., Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Associated Press

September 12, 2023

Danelo Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison nearly two weeks ago. Authorities believe he is armed and likely still in South Coventry Township.

UPDATE, 11:30 A.M.: Escaped murderer Danelo Souza Cavalcante stole a rifle from a garage and fled a homeowner’s gunfire. Cavalcante entered the open garage late Monday near South Coventry Township, stole a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition, and fled when the homeowner who was in the garage drew a pistol and shot at him several times, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Bivens said he has no reason to believe Cavalcante was injured when the homeowner fired at him.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Authorities warned that an escaped murderer who has evaded capture in southeastern Pennsylvania for nearly two weeks was armed and urged residents Tuesday in the area where he was being pursued to lock their homes, secure vehicles, and remain indoors.

Pennsylvania State Police posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the department was pursuing Danelo Souza Cavalcante in South Coventry Township. Police also asked that the public call 911 if Cavalcante is seen and not to approach him.

Early Tuesday, North Coventry Township police said they were actively searching for Cavalcante near the intersection of Route 100 and Route 23 in South Coventry Township.

Owen J. Roberts School District, which is located in South Coventry Township, is closing all schools Tuesday, day 13 of the manhunt.

“The safety and security of our students and staff remains our top priority. We know that this situation is stressful and upsetting for our entire community. We thank you once again for your patience, support and understanding throughout the past several days,” Superintendent Will Stout wrote in a statement on the district’s website.

On Monday, state and federal officials pushed back against questions about whether they blew a chance to catch Cavalcante, saying that the area where hundreds had been searching included heavy 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 of the perimeter for the first time.

Cavalcante slipped out of the 8-square-mile search area over the weekend, stole a dairy delivery van that had been left unlocked with the keys in it. He abandoned it more than 20 miles 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.”

Cavalcante, 34, has eluded capture since Aug. 31, when he broke out of the Chester County Prison while awaiting transfer to a different lockup. He had been sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing an ex-girlfriend in 2021, allegedly to stop her from telling police that he’s 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 headcount. 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 Figueirópolis, which they said was 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 US Marshal’s Service who worked on the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, said there’s always a way to get through a perimeter.

Wooded terrain is particularly difficult to search especially when someone as small as Cavalcante — he’s 5 feet tall — can easily camouflage themselves or climb into a tree, said Caine, who isn’t involved in the search efforts.

Even though Cavalcante slipped through the perimeter, it won’t make things easier, Caine suggested.

“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.”

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.

Bivens declined to discuss whether Cavalcante has received assistance from others, but he 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.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Keystone senior community editor Patrick Berkery contributed to this report.

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