A fugitive who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison just days after being sentenced to life without parole in the fatal stabbing of his ex-girlfriend was captured early Wednesday, Pennsylvania State Police said.
Danelo Cavalcante was captured at 8:14 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. He was found hiding in a large pile of logs behind a John Deere store in South Coventry Township, about 30 miles from the prison he escaped from on Aug. 31.
“Today is a great day in Chester County. Our nightmare is finally over and the good guys won,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said a federal Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft using thermal imaging technology picked up a heat source in the area of South Coventry Township just after midnight, but a lightning storm forced the aircraft to land.
Bivens said officers quickly surrounded the area and maintained a perimeter until Wednesday morning when they moved in. Bivens said Cavalcante didn’t realize he was cornered until he saw the officers coming toward him.
“He was taken by surprise,” Bivens said.
He said Cavalcante did not surrender immediately. He said the fugitive tried to get away by crawling through thick brush while armed with a .22-caliber rifle he stole from a nearby residence Wednesday night.
Bivens said a police dog was sent in and was able to help detain Cavalcante, biting him at least once. No shots were fired.
The end of the 14-day manhunt for the 34-year-old Cavalcante came as a relief to residents of Pocopson Township, Pennsylvania, who had been advised by officials to stay alert. A combination of tactical teams from Pennsylvania State Police, FBI and Border Patrol brought Cavalcante into custody, according to a law enforcement source.
He was spotted Tuesday night, but weather hampered search efforts, according to the law enforcement source. More resources were brought in and he was taken into custody Wednesday.
There were no injuries to law enforcement officers, Bivens said.
Cavalcante, who officials said is also wanted in his native Brazil on homicide charges, escaped from the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township on Aug. 31.
Cavalcante was noticed missing that morning after inmates returned from the exercise yard at the prison, where he was being held pending transfer to a state correctional institution.
He had scaled a wall to gain access to the roof and pushing through razor wire before jumping down to a less secure area to make his getaway, Howard Holland, the acting warden of the Chester County Prison, told reporters during a recent press briefing.
He followed the same method of escape and route used by an inmate at the Chester County Prison, Holland said. Inmate Igor Vidra Bolte broke out of the prison in Pocopson Township on May 19 by scaling a wall in an exercise yard to gain access to the roof, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News.
Holland noted “one key difference” between the two escapes was the actions of a tower guard whose primary responsibility was to monitor inmates in the exercise yard.
“In Bolte’s escape, the tower officer observed the subject leaving the yard area and contacted control immediately. That is why Bolte was apprehended within 5 minutes,” Holland said. “In the escape of Cavalcante, the tower officer did not observe nor report the escape. The escape was discovered as part of the inmate counts that occur when the inmates come in from the exercise yard.”
Cavalcante escaped from the prison by “crab walking” up a wall, pushing his way through razor wire installed after Bolte’s escape, running across the prison roof and scaling more razor wire, Holland said.
The corrections officer on duty in the guard tower at the time was terminated on Sept. 7, officials said.
Holland said during the press briefing on Sept. 6 that steps are being taken now to completely enclose the eight exercise yards at the prison, which are now open-air. He said additional security cameras will also be installed and additional officers will be on the ground to help the tower officers monitor the inmates in the exercise yards.
The search for Cavalcante was centered in an area near the Chester County Prison, where he had been spotted multiple times, officials said.
A citizen reported seeing a man matching Cavalcante’s description on Sept. 7 running through the area near Longwood Gardens, a sprawling horticulture attraction located about 5 miles southwest of the prison, said Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police. The search perimeter shifted toward Longwood Gardens, and Calvalcante was spotted two more times in the search area on Sept. 8, state police said.
Bivens said nearly 400 people from multiple agencies were engaged in the manhunt on Sept. 8, adding that they will “keep up this search at whatever tempo is appropriate for as long as we need to. He’s a dangerous individual.”
A Chester County jury on Aug. 16 convicted Cavalcante of first-degree murder in the fatal 2021 stabbing in Schuylkill Township of his former girlfriend, 38-year-old Deborah Brandao. Prosecutors said Brandao was stabbed 38 times in front of her two young children, ages 4 and 7.
The jury took just 15 minutes of deliberations before voting unanimously to convict Cavalcante.
Prosecutors said Brandao was killed after she learned Cavalcante was wanted for murder in Brazil and threatened to expose him to police, Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said in a statement following Cavalcante’s conviction.
Following Brandao’s murder, Cavalcante fled to Virginia, where he was arrested and brought back to Pennsylvania to face justice for Brandao’s killing.
It was the second time in less than two months that a dangerous inmate had escaped from a Pennsylvania lockup. Inmate Michael Burham, who is a suspect in the rape and murder of a 34-year-old woman in Jamestown, New York, escaped from the Warren County Jail in northern Pennsylvania on July 6.
Burham, an Army reserve sergeant who authorities said was a “self-taught survivalist,” was captured on July 15 following a massive manhunt in the northern Pennsylvania woods.