(AP) – Authorities warned that an escaped murderer who has evaded capture in southeastern Pennsylvania for nearly two weeks was armed and urged residents Tuesday in the area where he was being pursued to lock up, secure vehicles, and remain indoors.
Pennsylvania State Police posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the department was pursuing Danelo Souza Cavalcante in South Coventry Township. Police also asked that the public call 911 if Cavalcante is seen and not to approach him.
At least one nearby school district announced early Tuesday that it would close all schools and offices for the day and another in the area planned to keep students indoors. Police closed roads in the search area. Video from a roadblock showed law enforcement officers stopping and checking vehicles leaving the area.
On Monday, state and federal officials pushed back against questions about whether they blew a chance to catch Cavalcante, saying that the area where hundreds had been searching included heavy woods, underground tunnels and drainage ditches. They also said it took more than two hours for news to reach them that he had been spotted outside of the perimeter for the first time.
Cavalcante slipped out of the 8-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) search area over the weekend, stole a dairy delivery van that had been left unlocked with the keys in it. He abandoned it more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the search area, after unsuccessfully seeking help at the homes of two former colleagues late Saturday, police said.
Lt. Col. George Bivens, of the Pennsylvania State Police, declined to say how he thinks Cavalcante slipped through the perimeter, but he said no perimeter is completely secure.
Cavalcante is desperate because he is reaching out for help from people with whom he hasn’t spoken in years, he said.
“The fact that he has reached out to people with a very distant past connection tells me he doesn’t have a great network of support,” Bivens said. “So I think he’s desperate and I’ve characterized him as that all along. And I think the longer we push him, the more resources, the more tools we bring to bear, we will ultimately capture him. He doesn’t have what he needs to last long-term.”
Bivens has said state police are authorized to use deadly force if Cavalcante isn’t actively surrendering and noted other agencies involved in the search may have their own rules.
Cavalcante, 34, has eluded capture since Aug. 31, when he broke out of the Chester County Prison while awaiting transfer to a different lockup. He had been sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing an ex-girlfriend in 2021, allegedly to stop her from telling police that he’s wanted in a slaying in his home country of Brazil.
To escape, 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. The tower guard on duty was fired, officials said.
In Brazil, prosecutors in Tocantins state said Cavalcante is accused of “double qualified homicide” in the 2017 slaying of Válter Júnior Moreira dos Reis in Figueirópolis, which they said was over a debt the victim owed him for repairing a vehicle.
U.S. authorities described Cavalcante as extremely dangerous. A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.
Craig Caine, a retired inspector with the U.S. Marshal’s Service who worked on the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, said there’s always a way to get through a perimeter.
Wooded terrain is particularly difficult to search especially when someone as small as Cavalcante — he’s 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall — can easily camouflage themselves or climb into a tree, said Caine, who isn’t involved in the search efforts.
Even though Cavalcante slipped through the perimeter, it won’t make things easier, Caine suggested.
“They definitely have their work cut out for them now that he breached the perimeter and they don’t have a defined area to search,” he said. “This guy has nothing to lose. But law enforcement just has to get lucky once. This guy has to get lucky every day he’s out there.”
The length of the manhunt is not unusual, Caine said. Searches for escaped prisoners have lasted four or five weeks or even years, he said.
Bivens declined to discuss whether Cavalcante has received assistance from others, but he said no such arrests have been made.
Cavalcante’s sister was arrested by immigration authorities, Bivens said. He said she was arrested for staying past her legally allowed period of stay and law enforcement had no reason to allow her to remain in the United States since she was not cooperating with the investigation.