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Pennsylvania inmate escaped by crab-walking up a prison wall, video shows

Pennsylvania State police search the woods and a creek in Pennsbury Township, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. Murderer Danelo Cavalcante was able to escape a prison yard in suburban Pennsylvania last week by climbing up a wall and over razor wire, officials said at a news conference Wednesday.
Steven M. Falk
/
AP
Pennsylvania State police search the woods and a creek in Pennsbury Township, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. Murderer Danelo Cavalcante was able to escape a prison yard in suburban Pennsylvania last week by climbing up a wall and over razor wire, officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

WEST CHESTER, Pa. — A murderer made a brazen escape from a suburban Philadelphia jail yard by scaling a wall, climbing over razor wire and jumping from a roof in a breakout that wasn't detected by guards for a full hour, authorities said Wednesday as the killer eluded a widening manhunt for a seventh day.

The timeline and details of Danelo Cavalcante's escape — including that he got out using the same route another prisoner took in May — were released as police from various agencies flooded a search zone of increasingly worried residents. A tower guard on duty during the breakout was put on leave as part of the escape investigation.

The escape and search have attracted international attention and became big news in Cavalcante's native Brazil. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro ran a lengthy story Wednesday with the headline "Dangerous hide-and-seek."

Howard Holland, the acting warden of the Chester County Prison, played a security video at a news conference Wednesday. It shows the 34-year-old Cavalcante standing in a passageway next to the jail yard before bracing his hands on one wall and his feet on another then "crab-walking" up the walls out of the camera's view.

Holland said the prison had brought in a consultant after the first escape in May and added razor wire to that area.

"What was perhaps overlooked was the fact that addressing the single point of physical countermeasures should have been bolstered by additional means. We are addressing that," Holland said. He said the prison was fully staffed when Cavalcante broke out.

The prison is considering adding officers to the yard during recreation times, as well as caging in the top of those yards, Holland said. The Pennsylvania attorney general's office has taken over the escape investigation, he said.

Holland said the inmate who escaped in May was returned within minutes after a tower guard quickly sounded the alarm. He said Cavalcante was identified as missing after a headcount, more than an hour after the video was taken. A public siren was sounded about 10 a.m.

Holland declined to say why the guard, whose name has not been made public, had not noticed Cavalcante hopping from the roof and heading away from the prison's perimeter.

Cavalcante received a life sentence last month for killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, in front of her children in 2021, and escaped while awaiting transfer to state prison. Prosecutors say he killed her to stop her from telling police that he's wanted in a 2017 killing back in Brazil.

He had been captured in Virginia after Brandao's killing and authorities believe he was trying to return to Brazil.

Two suburban Philadelphia school districts remained shuttered and one of the nation's premier botanical gardens was closed Wednesday as authorities kept up their search.

Cavalcante has been spotted six times since he escaped, most recently Tuesday night when he was seen in a residential area but soon disappeared into the woods. He had been spotted Monday night at Longwood Gardens, where trail surveillance video captured him walking through the garden's grounds.

That sighting led officials to move the search area farther south Tuesday after they determined Cavalcante had likely slipped through the original perimeter set by hundreds law enforcement officers, including heavily armed police.

Authorities have urged residents to keep their homes and vehicles locked, to check the properties of vacationing neighbors and to look out for missing cars, bicycles or other transportation Cavalcante might use.

"It's unnerving to know that I can't stand in my backyard with my dogs. My husband has to come outside with me and, you know, it's just an uneasy feeling," said Danielle Lawrence, of Pocopson, which is near the county's jail, roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

Ryan Drummond, whose Pocopson home was broken into late Friday by a man believed to be Cavalcante, voiced similar views. He believes Cavalcante came in through French doors that had a broken lock — and perhaps was nearby when his family was talking about the problem as they locked up the house that night.

"We're still operating in this half-normal life right now, meaning the kids are off school. Parents are trying to do the COVID balance of working and managing their children," Drummond said Wednesday.

The intruder left with "a peach, an apple, maybe a few snap peas" that he found on the kitchen counter, Drummond said, along with a white hat that he soon lost as he fled past a neighbor's yard.

"Everybody wants this to be over," said Drummond, who said his frustration lies not with the search efforts but with the prison. "How can it be going on almost a week at this point?"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press