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Escaped Pennsylvania killer spotted and possibly has a weapon, authorities say

Originally Published: 11 SEP 23 00:53 ET

Updated: 12 SEP 23 01:35 ET

By Nouran Salahieh, Dakin Andone and Celina Tebor, CNN

(CNN) — A Pennsylvania killer who escaped from prison nearly two weeks ago has been spotted again, this time with authorities warning he is “possibly armed with a weapon.”

Danelo Cavalcante was sighted in Chester County’s South Coventry Township, about 20 miles north of the prison he escaped from, according to an alert sent to area residents from Chester County 911 on Monday night.

“The Pennsylvania State Police are receiving reports of escaped convict Danelo Cavalcante in the area of Ridge Rd/Coventryville Rd/Daisy Point Rd in South Coventry Township possibly armed with a weapon,” the alert read. “Residents in the area are asked to lock all external doors and windows, secure vehicles, and remain indoors.”

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper James P. McKee told CNN earlier there was a sighting Monday night but did not provide further details.

It’s the first report of a sighting since the weekend, when Cavalcante slipped through a police search perimeter, stole a van, changed his appearance and was sighted more than 20 miles away before ditching the vehicle in East Nantmeal Township.

“We’re considering and certainly acting on and investigating any piece of information or tip that we receive,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a news conference Monday afternoon, noting the reward for information leading to Cavalcante’s capture had been raised to $25,000.

The developments this weekend dramatically altered the search, which had focused since Cavalcante’s August 31 escape on the area immediately surrounding the Chester County Prison, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, where he was being held following his conviction last month of first-degree murder.

But on Saturday evening, Cavalcante stole a 2020 Ford Transit van three-quarters of a mile from the search perimeter and traveled about 25 miles north to the East Pikeland Township home of an acquaintance he’d known several years ago, Bivens said in a Sunday news conference.

He spoke with the acquaintance on a Ring doorbell camera, which captured his new clean-shaven look, but the person wasn’t home and did not respond to meet Cavalcante, Bivens said.

Cavalcante then tried to contact another acquaintance in the nearby Phoenixville area. That person was also not home but called police after a female resident saw the escaped inmate, according to Bivens.

On Monday, Bivens warned anyone who was considering assisting the fugitive to do otherwise, and instead help law enforcement facilitate his capture.

“He needs additional help. He needs resources for the long run, and he is seeking those,” Bivens said Monday.

Cavalcante’s sister – who Bivens said had overstayed her visa – has been detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“She chose not to assist and because of being in an overstay status, she has been entered into a deportation proceeding and is being detained at this time,” Bivens said.

“She has failed to cooperate, and so there was no value in law enforcement keeping her here at this point,” he said.

Eleni Cavalcante testified in the murder trial of her brother, according to Chester County officials.

Cavalcante fled Chester County Prison within days of being sentenced to life without parole for the murder of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão. He left by “crab walking” between two walls, scaling a fence and traversing across razor wire, putting the community on edge and shuttering schools as he repeatedly evaded capture.

Cavalcante’s time on the run has likely “exceeded the expectations of investigators,” CNN’s chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller said. Most escaped prisoners are captured within 24 hours, and most of them within two miles, he said.

But Cavalcante fled almost two weeks ago. And his movements Saturday changed the geographic focus of the search to the area around East Nantmeal Township in the northern part of Chester County, where the stolen van was found abandoned in a field behind a barn, apparently after running out of gas.

“You also have to remember the stakes are different for him,” Miller said. “He is desperate and willing to really play his hardest, because if he goes back, he’s going to a place where he’s not getting out.”

Stealing vehicle was a ‘game changer’

Police “were everywhere” in East Nantmeal Township on Sunday, said Rick Silvia, the owner of Journey’s End Farm, which was hosting an equestrian event.

“They began turning vehicles around and blocked the perimeter of our property,” Silvia told CNN. “The last thing we heard last night was that they were awaiting more manpower and doing a shoulder-to-shoulder search in the cornfield.”

The police presence was smaller Monday, he said.

Meanwhile, Nantmeal United Methodist Church locked its doors during services Sunday, its pastor, Dennis Keen, told CNN. It was an unusual move, taken for safety precautions, Keen said. His parishioners are worried.

Bivens on Monday reiterated his request that community members to familiarize themselves with the latest photos of Cavalcante, check their surveillance footage and secure their homes and vehicles. The owner of the van used by the fugitive, a local dairy farm, did not realize it had been stolen, authorities said previously. The keys had been left inside.

“We remain concerned that Cavalcante will attempt to steal another vehicle to facilitate his escape,” he said. “It is imperative that anyone with information about Cavalcante, contact us immediately so that we might act on that information in a timely manner.”

Cavalcante, who was previously shown in photos with facial hair, has since changed his appearance by shaving his face, Bivens said. He also got a green hooded sweater.

It’s unclear how Cavalcante managed to get past the search perimeter authorities had set up around Longwood Gardens, where several sightings of the fugitive had been reported in the days after his escape.

“No perimeter is 100% secure – ever,” Bivens told reporters Sunday, a sentiment he echoed Monday.

US Marshals Service Supervising Deputy Robert Clark said Monday he believed the environment around the Chester County Prison had given Cavalcante an advantage, calling it “very difficult terrain.”

“But now we’re going to prepare for the long game, and the long game is what we do best,” Clark said. “The US Marshals Service, like the colonel said, does fugitive investigations every day. This is a manhunt, and all that means to us is that it’s a longer fugitive investigation with more resources. So we are prepared.”

Miller, the CNN analyst, similarly pointed out a police perimeter does not consist of a “solid line of cops in a giant square.” Slipping through was “a game of patience” for Cavalcante, who is “on the run, literally for his life.”

“The game changer for him was stealing the truck, because it allowed him to get distance,” Miller said. “In fact, it allowed him to get distance ‘til it ran out of gas. He hasn’t run out of gas.”

A second game changer would be finding an associate who will aid him, Miller added, perhaps through providing him a phone, another vehicle or helping him change his appearance again.

Authorities’ focus, Miller said, is “going to be less on that box that he got out of, and more on who exists in his universe that he would reach to.”

Timeline of known Cavalcante sightings

In addition to the murder of Brandão – he stabbed her 38 times in front of her two young children, according to prosecutors – Cavalcante is also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, his native country, a US Marshals Service official has said.

“Clearly he has been in residences, businesses and in vehicles – at least one – that I can’t say what may or may not have been in any of those locations that he had access to,” Bivens said Sunday.

Pennsylvania State Police have said there have been multiple credible sightings of the escaped inmate. Here’s what we know about some of the places police say Cavalcante has been to so far:

August 31: Cavalcante is seen on jail surveillance video escaping from Chester County Prison. The video showed him “crab-walking” between two walls in an exercise yard – placing his hands on one wall and his feet on another – and shimmying up out of view, said the prison’s acting warden, Howard Holland. Cavalcante then ran across a roof, scaled another fence and got through razor wire, Holland said.

September 1: Ryan Drummond, who lives in the township where the prison is located, said Cavalcante got into his Pocopson Township home and took food before leaving, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.

September 2: Cavalcante was spotted on surveillance video about 1.5 miles from the prison, authorities said.

September 4: A security camera recorded the fugitive at Longwood Gardens, about 3 miles from the prison, authorities said.

Tuesday: An area resident reported seeing Cavalcante in a creek bed on the resident’s property, Bivens said.

Wednesday: A trail camera image showed Cavalcante in or around Longwood Gardens but officials learned about this sighting Thursday evening, according to Bivens.

Friday: Authorities reported two sightings of Cavalcante within the search area. The area encompassed Longwood Gardens.

Saturday: Cavalcante stole the van and at 9:52 p.m. local time, he went to the home of the first acquaintance where he was seen on doorbell video. He then went to the home of another old work associate at 10:07 p.m. in Phoenixville area, according to Bivens, who said authorities learned of the sightings around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

Sunday: The stolen van was found abandoned in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township at 10:40 a.m.

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