The Pennsylvania manhunt for an escaped convicted killer has escalated and shifted focus to a small township where police have set up a new perimeter, schools are closed and people are on edge after the fugitive stole a rifle and vanished again, authorities said.
The search for Danelo Cavalcante, 34, took a turn after he was spotted on Monday night in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, about 20 miles north of the prison he broke out of two weeks ago.
The fugitive, who has evaded hundreds of officers for days, turned up shirtless at a homeowner’s garage, ran in and grabbed a .22-caliber rifle, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a Tuesday 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.
“We consider him desperate. We consider him dangerous,” he said. “I would suspect that he’s desperate enough to use that weapon.”
The interaction drew a massive police response to South Coventry Township, where residents received late-night reverse 911 calls to lock their doors and stay inside as police warned that Cavalcante was armed.
About 500 law enforcement officers – including the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI, ATF, and the US Marshals – have set up a perimeter in the wooded area where they are now searching for the fugitive.
“It will take a long time to clear that entire area,” Bivens said, warning that, “No perimeter is ever 100% impenetrable.”
Police believe Cavalcante knows where he is, and has been in this area before, according to Bivens.
Cavalcante’s latest sighting has upended lives in South Coventry Township, which has a population of just over 2,600. The Owen J. Roberts School District closed Tuesday, while several other area districts moved outdoor activities indoors.
Local pizza shop owner Giuseppe Gatto told CNN affiliate WPVI he was forced to close his business for the day after Route 100 was partially shut down to the public.
“Talking to my customers the last couple days, we’re afraid. They’re afraid. I’m afraid. He could be at somebody’s house. He could be at somebody’s business,” Gatto told the station. “I hope they catch this guy.”
Emma de Long, who owns a farm near the garage where the rifle was stolen from, told WPVI she quickly locked up and left when she learned Cavalcante was armed.
“Immediately when I found out he was armed and dangerous in our area, we called off work,” de Long said, also expressing concern over the search posing difficulties for local farmers’ harvests.
Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison, in a rural area some 30 miles west of Philadelphia, by “crab-walking” up to the roof on August 31 following his conviction last month of first-degree murder for the killing of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão.
Since then, he’s been sighted several times in Chester County. During his two weeks on the run, Cavalcante has been spotted inside homes, managed to slip through a police search perimeter, stolen a van, changed his appearance, showed up at the doorsteps of people he knew years ago, and now, stolen a firearm.
Cavalcante’s mother told The New York Times she believes her son’s ability to survive outdoors for so long stems from his difficult upbringing in Brazil.
“His training was his suffering,” his mother told the Times on Tuesday. “It was going to sleep hungry, it was waking up as I wondered what to feed them.”
“We’re poor. We’re humble. But we’re workers,” the mother said. “What we have, we fought to get.”
Last week, police used helicopters and patrol cars to broadcast a message in Portuguese from Cavalcante’s mother, urging him to surrender.
As the search drags on, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said authorities believe they have the fugitive contained in a specific area.
“As for the individual himself this is a moment where you got to realize the gig is almost up and you’d be best to turn yourself in and that is what I would urge him to do at this time,” he said.
Stealing the rifle was a ‘crime of opportunity’
The dayslong manhunt saw one of its most dramatic nights Monday in South Coventry Township, where Cavalcante was still believed to be Tuesday.
The events of the night began with a call from a driver at 8 p.m. reporting “a male was crouched near the wood line” west of Route 100, according to Pennsylvania State Police, the agency leading the manhunt.
A nearby Border Patrol Tactical Team responded and found footprints in mud that matched Cavalcante’s prison shoes. The shoes were then found shortly after, police said.
Around that time, authorities learned that a resident “in the immediate area” reported a pair of work boots were stolen from a porch, state police said.
Officers tracked Cavalcante continued in a northern direction until around 10:10 p.m., they got a call from a resident on a nearby road that a “short Hispanic male, wearing dark pants and no shirt” had gone into his open garage and taken a firearm that was leaning in the corner, police said.
Cavalcante took a .22-caliber rifle that has a scope and flashlight, Bivens said, describing the theft as a “crime of opportunity.”
“I think he went in there probably trying to hide, the garage door was open he didn’t – I believe – recognize that the owner was in there – he was probably looking for a place to hide, ran for that garage, saw the firearm, grabbed that, encountered the homeowner and fled with the firearm,” Bivens told reporters Tuesday.
After learning of the encounter with the homeowner, officers responded to scene and found a green sweatshirt and a white t-shirt, believed to have been worn by Cavalcante, near the edge of the driveway.
The search perimeter was expanded to include that area and tactical teams from multiple agencies, helicopters, canine units and mounted patrols converged on the area to search for Cavalcante.
“I think he is just trying to survive and avoid being captured right now,” Bivens said Tuesday.
John Moriarty, a fugitive hunter in Texas who has been involved in hunts for every prison escapee in Texas since 1989, told CNN he believes police stand a good chance of finding Cavalcante in the next few days.
“It appears to me they’ve got him laid down pretty good in that wooded area. A lot of it will come down to dog work because it’s so thick in there, it looks like, that the dogs will have a better shot at rooting him out than anyone else,” Moriarty said.
For now, authorities are warning Cavalcante is considered “armed and extremely dangerous.”
According to prosecutors, he stabbed Brandão 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 also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, a US Marshals Service official has said.