Chester County, Pennsylvania
The manhunt for Danelo Cavalcante that has communities in southeastern Pennsylvania on high alert has shifted after the escaped murderer was spotted just south of the original search area, state police said Tuesday.
Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison on Thursday morning and authorities began by scouring a heavily wooded area in Pocopson Township and Chester County within 2 miles of the prison – a rural area around 30 miles west of Philadelphia.
Law enforcement has now expanded the perimeter of the search after a security camera on Monday evening recorded Cavalcante at a popular botanical gardens that is almost 3 miles away from the correctional facility.
“We believe he is just south of that (original search) radius and that’s why, again, we’ve shifted that perimeter now to include that area,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said during a news conference Tuesday.
Cavalcante was spotted by a security camera Monday at Longwood Gardens at 8:21 p.m. He was walking north and was sighted again at 9:33 p.m., this time heading back south.
While Cavalcante’s appearance was unchanged, Bivens said he had obtained some items, including a backpack, a “duffel-sling type pack,” and a hooded sweatshirt. Cavalcante is described as a 5-foot, 120-pound man with light skin, shaggy black hair and brown eyes.
Longwood Gardens boasts over 200 acres of “lush, formal gardens, open meadows, and winding paths.” The attraction was closed Tuesday as police searched the property and surrounding area, where the air feels much hotter than the low 90s on the thermometer. Officials said Tuesday evening the gardens will also be closed Wednesday.
Cavalcante, 34, was convicted of first-degree murder on August 16 in the killing of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão, in 2021. He was sentenced to life without parole.
There had been five “credible sightings” of Cavalcante within the previous search radius, Bivens said.
“We believe he is just south of that radius, and we have shifted the perimeter,” Bivens said. Police are eliminating the northern end of the previous perimeter and shifting the search area south of Route 1.
Kennett Consolidated School District, which is about 9 miles from the prison, and Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, about 5 miles from the prison, were closed Tuesday. In a message on its website, the Kennett district said it will be closed again Wednesday.
Police issued a Reverse 911 call Tuesday morning to residents within 3 miles of the area where Cavalcante was spotted. Authorities have advised residents to keep their doors and cars locked, warning that Cavalcante is extremely dangerous.
Bivens said if his own home were near the search area, “even while I was in the house, I would have my doors locked.”
While the new search zone is more open than the heavily wooded area police were previously focused on, Bivens said there are plenty of places for Cavalcante to hide.
About 200 to 250 people are on the ground at any given time, aiding with search efforts. Police are trying to put pressure on the inmate, who they believe seized on an opportunity to get out of jail and is now “winging it.”
“You’re dealing with someone who is desperate and doesn’t want to be caught,” Bivens said.
Ryan Drummond of Pocopson Township told CNN affiliate WPVI he believes he saw Cavalcante inside his home. Drummond said he got up to investigate after hearing a noise from downstairs at around 11:45 p.m. Friday.
“What I decided to do was flip the light switch on and off three or four or five times, pause, and then he flipped the light switch from downstairs three or four times, which was the moment of, like, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s down there,’” Drummond said.
Drummond said he then watched as Cavalcante walked out of his home, taking food in the process. US Marshals returned to the home Sunday, searching the woods alongside his property, Drummond said.
Cavalcante was spotted again on a surveillance camera a little after midnight Sunday about 1.5 miles away from the prison, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office said in a Facebook post on Saturday morning – and police received a report of an attempted burglary Sunday in nearby Pocopson Township, the Facebook post says.
A state trooper also saw Cavalcante in the area, Bivens said during a news conference Monday.
Hair salon owner Aimee Young-Wilson said Tuesday it’s business as usual. As cars raced past her business on a busy main artery in Chester County, you’d never know just a few short hours prior an escaped inmate was spotted at the popular botanical garden.
“Our book is very quiet today,” Young-Wilson said. “It’s very crazy. I just don’t understand how someone stays on the run for this long.”
Young-Wilson said she isn’t scared but is staying alert. She hasn’t seen anything out of the ordinary though, her salon, Fa Shears, is closed on Sundays and Mondays so Tuesday was her first day back.
“Everyone is just worried because he’s here, he’s dangerous and there’s a lot of elderly folks that live around the area,” she said. “But we can’t shut down. We can’t stop living our life.”
Jennifer Briggs and her family live in the Pocopson Township area, about 1.5 miles from Chester County Prison.
Briggs has a 4-year-old and a kindergartner, who just started school at Pocopson Elementary School last week. The family got a 5 a.m. notification from the school district that classes would be virtual Tuesday.
“It’s a little unsettling,” Briggs told CNN.
The wooded area where authorities had been searching backs up to the family’s neighborhood, Briggs said, noting that there are many walking trails through the woods, including one that loops around the prison.
“There’s been a lot of helicopter activity, which is just a little nerve-wracking, having young kids,” Briggs said. She’s been keeping her kids inside the home and having them sleep in her bedroom at night with the doors locked, she said.
After some of the homes in the vicinity were burglarized, police were posted in the neighborhood for about two days, searching vehicles. “They had a command post set up at the entrance to our neighborhood. There’s only one way in and one way out,” said Briggs.
Briggs said police searched her car Saturday afternoon.
“Anytime you would leave, they were searching your car to make sure he wasn’t in the car,” she said. “I had my kids in the car with me, so that was probably the most unsettling moment.”
Nancy Sanchez, a manager at GuGu Asian Table, a restaurant in neighboring Kennett Square, said staff members are also taking extra precautions.
“We’re letting our younger workers and women park close to the building and not toward the back of the lot, so the security camera can watch. We have lighting, so they’re not scared,” Sanchez told CNN.
Sanchez said the back door to their basement, which they usually keep open for deliveries, is now closed.
Briggs said her family recently moved to the Pocopson Township area from Atlanta, partially because they had heard how safe the area was.
“The big question I think everyone has right now is, how did he escape?” Briggs said. “Could this happen again? How have they not caught him?”
Due to the manhunt continuing, Kennett Consolidated School District and Unionville-Chadds Ford School District were closed Tuesday.
“We were informed early this morning by law enforcement that the search situation has evolved and out of an abundance of caution, schools and offices will be closed today,” said the superintendent of Kennett Consolidated School District.
“The district has received information that the status of the situation with the escaped prisoner has changed. Schools and offices are closed today and the district will operate on a Flexible Instructional Day (online, offline, or a combination of both),” Unionville-Chadds Ford School District announced.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers, including the US Marshals, local, state and other agencies were deployed to help with the search. Additional federal agencies including the FBI and US Customs Border Patrol have now sent resources to the Chester County area, the DA said Tuesday.
Using a helicopter and patrol cars, police even tried broadcasting a message in Portuguese from Cavalcante’s mother encouraging him to surrender, Robert Clark, supervisory deputy US Marshal for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said during a news conference Monday.
Cavalcante is also wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, which led to him fleeing the country, said Clark. Authorities previously said they were looking into whether Cavalcante had inside help to escape.