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Pennsylvania inmate manhunt: Dense terrain and brutal heat prove difficult in the search for a convicted murderer who escaped from prison


As authorities search for a convicted murderer who escaped from an eastern Pennsylvania prison last week, they face geographic difficulties in a heavily wooded area that they say are making the cover-up easier.

Danelo Cavalcante has been on the run since August 31, when he escaped from Chester County Jail in a rural area about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. The search for him, now in its eighth day on Thursday, has angered county residents who have been told he is extremely dangerous.

Investigators believe Cavalcante has been seen several times within a few miles of the prison since his escape. But it has proven elusive as searchers try to navigate the extreme heat, high humidity and landscape – a mix of dense forests and residential properties with outbuildings, Lt. Col. George Bivens of Pennsylvania State Police.

“(There are) a lot of places that it would be very easy for someone to hide in — even if it’s not in dense forest and everything,” Bivens told CNN’s Brian Todd.

The hunt involved hundreds of law enforcement personnel and search dogs, including one who was in 90-degree heat and was being medically treated, Bivens said.

“Everything from the weather to the type of terrain to the clothing the individual is wearing, a lot can come into play as to the dog’s ability to stay on that scent and follow difficult terrain,” Bevins said. .

Yet authorities have seen signs of its presence in the area. Authorities discovered Cavalcante’s footprints “and there were other indicators that he passed through a certain area,” Bevins said. But they didn’t get anything back from Cavalcante, he added.

He was recorded at least twice on surveillance video, authorities said, including once on Saturday morning, about 2.4 kilometers from the prison. A security camera also recorded Cavalcante on Monday at a botanical garden nearly 3 miles from the correctional facility, authorities said.

Residents also reported sightings. A citizen of Pocopson Township, where the jail is located, said he saw Cavalcante inside his home Friday, grabbing food before leaving, CNN affiliate WPVI reported. Another resident claimed to have seen him on Tuesday moving through the woods near a house on the east side of where authorities were searching, state police said.

And a state trooper also saw Cavalcante in the area, Bivens said Monday.

While Cavalcante is at large, police have advised residents to ensure their doors and cars are locked. Two area school districts have canceled classes for at least part of this week, with some expected to resume Thursday.

Five of Kennett Consolidated School District’s six schools will resume classes on Thursday — one elementary school will remain closed because it is inside the search area. Half of the six schools in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will remain closed Thursday.

Cavalcante, 34, was convicted of first-degree murder on August 16 for the fatal stabbing in 2021 of his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandão, 33, in Chester County. Since Cavalcante escaped, Brandão’s sister – who lives in the area – said she lived in fear of what he might do to her or her sister’s two children, in her care .

Cavalcante is also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in his native Brazil, a US Marshals Service official said.

His escape from Chester County Jail was caught on surveillance video, which showed him crabbing between two walls in a playground – placing his hands on one wall and his feet on another – and moving out of sight. Director Howard Holland told reporters on Wednesday.

Cavalcante then ran through a rooftop, scaled another fence and ran through even more barbed wire, Holland said.

Whoever was in charge of monitoring the prison’s 160 cameras didn’t see the escape unfold, and a guard in a tower overlooking prisoners who were playing basketball at the time of the breakout didn’t see Cavalcante walk away. escape, Holland said. The tower guard is on administrative leave while that person’s actions are investigated.

So far, it has taken authorities more than a week to search for Cavalcante. But another inmate who escaped from the same jail in May was found just five minutes after his escape, authorities said.

Igor Bolte climbed onto the roof of the prison and descended to a less secure area on May 19, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

Bolte told police he was able to climb a wall in an exercise area by placing his legs against one wall and his arms on another until he was able to pull himself up onto the roof . He was arrested within minutes less than a mile from the jail.

Authorities said an investigation would be conducted to determine if Cavalcante and Bolte knew each other.

Earlier this week, Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said prison officials have taken steps to tighten security.

“The prison is very aware of its vulnerabilities and has made efforts to address those vulnerabilities,” Ryan said Monday.

Holland, the prison’s acting warden, said Wednesday that officials were under the impression the barbed wire would prevent escapes.

“Again, the only thing we didn’t take into account was failure on the human side. We only focused on the physical infrastructure and not necessarily the human element,” Holland said.

Other measures are being considered, Holland said, including adding a guard in the yard.