Escaped murderer Danelo Souza Cavalcante stole a rifle from a garage and fled a homeowner’s gunfire, authorities said Tuesday as police closed roads in suburban Philadelphia, told residents to lock their doors and set up a new search area in the nearly 2-week-old manhunt.
Cavalcante entered the open garage late Monday in the search area northwest of Philadelphia, stole a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition, and fled when the homeowner who was in the garage drew a pistol and shot at him several times, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
The developments came in the days after Cavalcante slipped out of an earlier search area to the south in Chester County, stole a dairy delivery truck, and went to the homes of onetime work associates in what police say is Cavalcante’s desperate quest for help.
About 500 law enforcement personnel are now searching or guarding an 8- to 10-square mile area in a different part of Chester County, near South Coventry Township, roughly 30 miles northwest (50 kilometers) of Philadelphia, Bivens said. More officers are being called in to secure the area, with police closing roads and setting up checkpoints to search vehicles.
Bivens said he has no reason to believe Cavalcante was injured when the homeowner fired at him.
Before that encounter, Bivens said a motorist alerted police to a man matching Cavalcante’s description crouching along a tree line in the darkness near a road. Police found footprints and tracked them to the prison shoes identical to those Cavalcante had been wearing. A pair of work boots was reported stolen from a porch nearby.
Bivens said he believes Cavalcante was fleeing from pursuers and looking for a place to hide when he saw the open garage.
“The garage door was open. He didn’t, I believe, recognize that the owner was in there. And I think he was probably looking for a place to hide, ran for that garage, saw the firearm, grabbed that, encountered the homeowner and fled with the firearm,” Bivens said.
It was, he said, a “crime of opportunity.”
A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.
At least one school district said Tuesday 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.
Bivens has said state police are authorized to use deadly force if Cavalcante doesn’t actively surrender and noted other agencies involved in the search may have their own rules.
On Saturday, Cavalcante slipped out of an earlier 8-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) search area over the weekend and 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.
Bivens declined to say how he thinks Cavalcante slipped through the search perimeter, but he said no perimeter is completely secure.
State and federal officials pushed back Monday against questions about whether they blew a chance to catch Cavalcante, saying the area where hundreds had been searching included deep 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 the perimeter for the first time.
Bivens has declined to discuss whether Cavalcante has received assistance from others but 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.
Cavalcante, 34, broke out of the Chester County Prison while awaiting transfer to a state prison to serve a life sentence for fatally stabbing an ex-girlfriend in 2021. Prosecutors say he killed her to stop her from telling police that he was 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 head count. 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 the municipality of Figueiropolis, over a debt the victim owed him for repairing a vehicle.
Brumfield reported from Silver Spring, Md. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia and Eléonore Hughes in Rio de Janeiro.