PHOENIXVILLE, Pa. –
Authorities searched Monday for an escaped murderer who has eluded capture since breaking out of a southeastern Pennsylvania prison a week and a half ago after they said over the weekend he slipped out of the search area, changed his appearance, stole a dairy delivery van and tried to contact acquaintances.
Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said Sunday that Danelo Souza Cavalcante stole the unlocked van, which had the keys inside, sometime Saturday night about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometres) from the northern perimeter of the search area where hundreds of law enforcement officers had been searching for him.
Bivens vowed to “aggressively continue” the search with the aid of federal, state, county and local resources and expressed confidence that the fugitive would eventually be recaptured.
“This is a minor setback,” he said. “We’ll get him, it’s a matter of time.”
Bivens said state police are authorized to use deadly force if Cavalcante isn’t actively surrendering.
Other agencies involved in the search may have their own rules, he noted.
Several law enforcement agencies put more stringent requirements in place for preauthorization of different levels of force in the wake of national protests and calls for policing reforms after the killing of George Floyd by police.
The Pennsylvania State Police regulations republished in July outline specific scenarios where deadly force is justified including to prevent the escape of someone who has committed a violent felony such as murder and who could pose a threat to the community.
By preauthorizing the use of deadly force for troopers if Cavalcante does not surrender, State Police officials are eliminating a potential delay.
Some schools in the region planned to hold outdoor activities inside. Owen J. Roberts School District in Pottstown announced that there would also be an increased security presence at its schools on Monday, including local law enforcement officers.
Baily’s Dairy said on its Facebook page that the delivery van was stolen between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday “while we were still here working.”
The theft wasn’t noticed for hours, and in the meantime Cavalcante, 34, travelled more than 20 miles (30 kilometres) northeast to East Pikeland Township and Phoenixville. Shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday he went to an East Pikeland Township home of a person he had worked with several years ago and asked to meet with him, police said.
The homeowner, who was at dinner with his family and didn’t respond, called police after returning home and reviewing his doorbell video. Shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday, police said, Cavalcante went to the Phoenixville area home of another former work associate, who wasn’t home, police said.
Doorbell video images showed Cavalcante to be now clean-shaven and wearing a yellow or green hooded sweatshirt, black baseball cap, green prison pants and white shoes, police said. The stolen van was found at 10:40 a.m. Sunday in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township, about 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of Phoenixville.
Bivens said he believed Cavalcante abandoned the vehicle at least in part because it was low on fuel. While law enforcement was searching the immediate area for any signs of him authorities were concerned that he would attempt to obtain another vehicle or had already done so.
“I do not have a report of a stolen vehicle; I anticipate that we will,” he said.
Cavalcante, 34, escaped from the Chester County Prison while awaiting transfer to state prison on Aug. 31 after being sentenced to life for fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend in 2021. Prosecutors say he wanted to stop her from telling police that he’s wanted in a killing in his home country of Brazil.
Police on Saturday had reported two more confirmed sightings of Cavalcante within the search area around the Longwood Gardens botanical park, the center of the search in recent days. Bivens said Friday that about 400 personnel were taking part in the search, including tactical teams, tracking dogs, and officers on horseback as well as aircraft.
Despite the massive searches, Bivens said the area had some underground tunnels and “very large drainage ditches” that were impossible to secure completely. Police had been planning to use close to 600 personnel Monday for “one massive sweep” of the search area, he said.
Authorities have described Cavalcante as extremely dangerous. Police are asking anyone with information to call 911. A US$20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.
Authorities on Friday announced the firing of the prison tower guard on duty when Cavalcante scaled a wall by crab-walking up from the recreation yard, climbed over razor wire, ran across a roof and jumped to the ground. His escape went undetected for more than an hour until guards took a headcount.
Cavalcante’s escape and the search has attracted international attention and became big news in Brazil, where prosecutors in Tocantins state say he’s accused of “double qualified homicide” in the 2017 slaying of Valter Junior Moreira dos Reis in Figueiropolis, which they allege was over a debt the victim owed him in connection with repair of a vehicle.