Escaped murderer Danelo Souza Cavalcante has been captured after an extensive search, Pennsylvania State Police said. He was detained Wednesday after eluding hundreds of searchers for two weeks, a conclusion that brought relief to anxious residents of southeastern Pennsylvania who had endured sleepless nights as he hid in the woods, broke into suburban homes for food, changed his appearance, and fled under gunfire with a rifle pilfered from a garage, authorities said.
Cavalcante’s heat signal was picked up around 1 a.m. from an aircraft, but storms prevented teams from continuing to track him until the morning, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said. In the meantime, tactical teams secured the area, and later moved in with search dogs, Bivens said at a news conference. “They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred,” Bivens said. Cavalcante — still armed with the rifle — tried to escape by crawling through thick underbrush, Bivens said, and he continued to resist as he was taken into custody after 8 a.m. He was bitten by a police dog and suffered a minor wound, he said.
“Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won,” said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan. State police had announced Cavalcante’s capture on social media earlier Wednesday, as the search entered its 14th day. The attorney general’s office said Cavalcante will be arraigned on a felony escape charge.
The end of the search for Cavalcante unfolded just beyond Philadelphia’s heavily populated suburbs, in an area of woods, rolling farmland and a county park. Police brought in hundreds of heavily armed law enforcement personnel with dogs, armored carriers, horses, and helicopters that circled over the rural stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania.
The search forced schools to close right at the start of the academic year, led to warnings for homeowners to lock their doors, and blocked roads over the busy Labor Day weekend. Overnight into Wednesday, heavily armed law enforcement officers searched for the fugitive through downpours and thunder.
The 34-year-old Brazilian national escaped last Thursday from the Chester County State Prison, west of Philadelphia. He was serving a life sentence for the April 2021 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Déborah Evangelista Brandão, whom he stabbed to death in front of their two children, ages seven and three. It was later learned that authorities of the Brazilian state of Tocantins were also looking for him for the 2017 shooting death of Valter Júnior Moreira dos Reis. The victim owed Cavalcante money for a car repair.
Police reported on Tuesday that the night before, the fugitive obtained a .22 caliber rifle with a scope and flashlight, which he stole from the garage of a single-family home. The homeowner discovered him and shot at him several times with another pistol in his arsenal, but he was not hit.
The fugitive learned of his sentence in August. On August 31, a few days before beginning his life sentence, he escaped from prison by climbing up a wall. Security video footage captured the moment. In it, he is seen wearing a T-shirt and white sneakers, distractedly approaching a narrow passageway made of exposed brick. He places his hands on one of the walls and his feet on the opposite wall, then starts to climb horizontally up, without taking his eyes off the prison courtyard. Within seconds, he disappears from view. The recording, worthy of a Buster Keaton film, is hypnotic. Cavalcante is only five-feet tall, but makes the feat look easy. Guards described it as “crab walking.”
The convicted murderer then managed to make his way past the razor wire, which had been installed after another inmate scaled the same wall and escaped. Cavalcante ran across the roof, scaled another fence, got through more razor wire. He was on the run for 13 days before he was caught on Wednesday.
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