Escaped Pennsylvania inmate Danelo Cavalcante is in custody, Pennsylvania State Police announced Wednesday morning, ending a two-week long manhunt for the convicted killer that drew hundreds of law enforcement officials to the area and left the surrounding community gripped with fear.
“This is a message from Pennsylvania State Police. The search for Danelo Cavalcante is over. The subject is now in custody,” a reverse 911 call sent to area residents said.
Video from CNN affiliate KYW shows Cavalcante in handcuffs, being escorted into the back of an armored Special Response Team vehicle, flanked by more than a dozen law enforcement officials, most carrying rifles. Cavalcante was wearing dark pants and a grey shirt; officers eventually cut his shirt with scissors and examined the tattoo on his back.
Live updates: Escaped killer is in custody
A state police SWAT team and a border patrol tactical team came upon Cavalcante while he was sleeping in tall grass on top of a rifle, two law enforcement sources said. Authorities gave him orders and he complied.
Cavalcante will be with state police “for a while,” and will be “medically assessed” and transferred to a state correctional facility, a state police spokesperson said.
State police are planning to hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m.
His capture came after a shift in the manhunt to South Coventry Township in Chester County as police announced yesterday that Cavalcante, 34, was now armed.
Schools were closed and residents were put on alert as police searched for the fugitive in the area about 20 miles north of the prison he broke out of two weeks ago.
Cavalcante, had turned up shirtless at a homeowner’s garage Monday night, 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 members of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and US Marshals – had set up a perimeter in the wooded area where they are now searching for the fugitive.
Pennsylvania state Senator Katie Muth thanked law enforcement for their work in capturing Cavalcante in a Facebook post Wednesday morning.
“Today, Danelo Cavalcante will be placed back behind bars for the rest of his life. I also want to remember the victim, Deborah Brandão, whose family has been terrorized all over again over the past few weeks,” Muth wrote. “No amount of justice will bring Deborah back to her family, but today at least they can sleep a little easier knowing that Cavalcante cannot hurt anyone else.”
Cavalcante’s latest sighting 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.
During his two weeks on the run, Cavalcante was spotted inside homes, managed to slip through police search perimeters, stole a van, changed his appearance, showed up at the doorsteps of people he knew years ago and stole a firearm.
As the search dragged on, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said authorities believed they had 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.
The 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.
Video shows inmate crab walk walls sideways to escape prison
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.
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.