He made it look easy.
Danilo Cavalcante, at 5 feet tall, seemed the perfect fit as he wedged himself in the narrow space between the walls in an exercise yard of the Chester County Prison on the morning of August 31.
The convicted murderer then ascended in a crab-walk until he disappeared from the view of a surveillance camera. Cavalcante employed a climbing technique that another inmate used to escape in May. He then ran across a roof, scaled a fence and pushed his way through razor wire to freedom.
During 14 days on the lam, he managed to elude capture despite being spotted numerous times in Chester County, stealing a van, and showing up at the homes of people he knew years ago more than 20 miles outside the search perimeter.
Early Wednesday, a small army of state and federal law enforcement officers, alerted by a tripped burglar alarm just after midnight, captured the inmate – who was armed with a stolen .22 caliber rifle – in a wooded area about 15 miles north of the prison where he had been held. He tried to crawl through thick underbrush and resisted as a police dog bit and subdued him. No shots were fired, police said.
Police explain how escaped inmate Cavalcante was captured
Wearing dark pants and a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie, Cavalcante was later seen in news footage being escorted into the back of an armored vehicle, his hands clasped behind his back and surrounded by more than a dozen law enforcement officers.
His arrest ended a tense nearly two-week manhunt that spread fear and unease just outside Philadelphia’s suburbs and generated headlines from the US to his native Brazil, where Cavalcante was wanted for homicide.
“Our nightmare is finally over and the good guys won,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said Wednesday.
Fugitive murderer has obtained a rifle
That nightmare appeared to worsen on Tuesday when authorities described Cavalcante as “armed and extremely dangerous” after he stole a rifle from the garage of a local homeowner, who fired several shots at the fugitive as he fled.
The theft and shooting ultimately may have been a turning point in the intense search by hundreds of law enforcement officers.
“I think he is just trying to survive and avoid being captured right now,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said Tuesday.
Charles Lyman, who owns a farm that was searched twice, said he believed Cavalcante was on his property on two occasions: once in a horse trailer, another time in a tree house.
Lyman said five granola bars were taken from the trailer.
“He scored a snack off of that,” he said. “He was living on granola bars for a little while.”
Police searched the farm multiple times. Lyman and others also checked the property regularly “with guns strapped to us all day long.”
“It’s made us on edge for sure,” he added. “It was nerve racking.”
Late Monday, police received a call from a resident who said a shirtless man entered his garage and grabbed a rifle in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, about 20 miles north of the prison. The homeowner fired his pistol at Cavalcante as he fled. A green sweatshirt and white tee shirt were found near the driveway.
The .22-caliber rifle in the inmate’s possession was equipped with a scope and flashlight, police said.
At least one local school district closed for the day and others kept all school activities indoors. Residents were told to keep their homes locked. Authorities scoured the dense woods, aided by drones, dogs and helicopters.
At about 2 a.m. Tuesday, state troopers in tactical gear knocked on the door of an East Nantmeal resident who owns a farm in the area. He called police after hearing gunfire. They checked and cleared the barns on his property.
“They made sure everything was clear and, with that, we were able to get some sleep,” the resident said.
About 500 law enforcement officers – including the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI, ATF, and the US Marshals – searched the area of the shooting. A perimeter was set up stretching several miles in each direction. Dozens of patrol cars and an armored vehicle converged on South Coventry Township.
“We consider him desperate. We consider him dangerous,” Bivens said. “I would suspect that he’s desperate enough to use that weapon.”
Video shows PA prison escape
On Wednesday morning, Cavalcante did not have a chance to use the rifle.
A huge assist for authorities came from a tripped burglar alarm hours earlier, shortly after midnight, in the perimeter set up in a northern swath of the county.
Search teams were already looking in a nearby area. Cavalcante was not at the site where the alarm was set off but searchers immediately turned their focus to the immediate area, Bivens said.
Just before 1 a.m., a US Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft assisting in the search picked up a “heat signal.”
Searchers converged on the location of the heat source. A lightning storm, however, forced the law enforcement aircraft to leave. Tactical teams on the ground tightly secured “that smaller area as best they could and held it through the storm,” Bivens said.
A heavily armed tactical team, with search dogs, waited out the storm and, shortly after 8 a.m., converged on the area of the heat signal.
“They were able to move in very quietly and they had the element of surprise,” Bivens said. “Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred.”
The inmate attempted to “crawl through thick underbrush, taking his rifle with him as he went,” Bivens said.
He must have realized the end was near but made one last-ditch attempt to get away.
A K-9 with the US Border Patrol Tactical Unit bit and subdued Cavalcante, who “continued to resist” and was “forcibly taken into custody,” according to Bivens. The stolen rifle was nearby.
Officers cut the Eagles sweatshirt with scissors and examined the tattoo on the back of the bloodied inmate, who was bitten on the scalp by the dog.
“He was desperate, and it was just a matter of time,” Pennsylvania Gov. John Shapiro said.
At 8:18 a.m., a Chester County dispatcher said they had their man.
“The radio room, Chester County government and the various other agencies working on the prisoner escape are proud to announce the subject is in custody. Repeating – the subject is in custody.”
A Reverse 911 call informed anxious residents: “The search for Danelo Cavalcante is over.”