Hundreds of law enforcement officers were scouring the railways, creeks and roads in a suburban county near Philadelphia on Friday, looking for a man who escaped from prison a little over two weeks after being convicted of first-degree murder.
The authorities said on Friday that local, state and federal officials were using “helicopters, drones and dogs” to find the convicted murderer, Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from Chester County Prison on Thursday. He was last seen a little before 10 a.m. that morning by someone going to work at the prison, walking south and wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts and white sneakers.
“We believe that he is still in the general area,” said Deborah Ryan, the Chester County district attorney, at the Friday news conference. “We believe that he is hiding somewhere locally and that he is alone.”
Ms. Ryan said that people in the area needed to be on “high alert” as Labor Day weekend commenced, suggesting that they lock their doors and keep watch over their children. “We have every reason to believe he is considered dangerous at this time,” she said.
West Chester University, a public college about six miles from the prison, canceled classes for the day, citing “an abundance of caution.”
Mr. Cavalcante, 34, was sentenced to life in prison on Aug. 22. Less than a week earlier, a jury found him guilty of stabbing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, to death “in front of her two young children,” Ms. Ryan said in a Facebook post last month.
After killing Ms. Brandao, in April 2021, Mr. Cavalcante tried to make his way back to his home country of Brazil, but was arrested by the police in Virginia, the district attorney said at the news conference. Ms. Ryan suggested that he might be heading south again. He was described as five feet tall and someone who speaks Spanish and Portuguese.
According to the district attorney’s office, investigators learned after the arrest that Mr. Cavalcante was wanted for murder in Brazil. They concluded that he killed Ms. Brandao because she had threatened to tell the police.
In a statement released on Friday, Brazilian law enforcement authorities said that Mr. Cavalcante was charged with shooting and killing a man in November 2017, apparently in a dispute over “an alleged debt related to the repair of a vehicle.” A warrant for his arrest in Brazil was issued in June 2018, and he was considered “a fugitive from justice.”
Edgar Larrea, who served as Mr. Cavalcante’s interpreter during his trial, described him as quiet and aloof. “He just sat there during the entire trial giving us no questions, no emotions,” he said. “Very cold guy.”
But he also suggested that Mr. Cavalcante could be on the run for some time. He “comes from the boonies in Brazil, so he knows how to survive,” Mr. Larrea said. “He could be anywhere.”
Mr. Larrea had been scheduled to see Mr. Cavalcante on Thursday morning at the prison, arriving there with a public defender a few minutes before 10 a.m. to discuss an appeal. But they were not allowed to go inside, he said, because the correctional staff learned just as they showed up that an inmate, who turned out to be Mr. Cavalcante, had gone missing, and the prison went on lockdown.
The acting warden of Chester County Prison, Howard Holland, said at a news conference on Thursday that the circumstances of the escape were under investigation, declining to elaborate further.
Mr. Holland had been overseeing the prison since late July, when the previous warden, Ronald Phillips, was placed on administrative leave. A county spokeswoman would not reveal why Mr. Phillips was put on leave, but said that he officially retired at a prison board meeting on Wednesday, the day before Mr. Cavalcante’s escape.
Local and federal authorities, including the U.S. Marshals Service, have announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads to Mr. Cavalcante’s capture.
Around the prison, which sits amid rolling hills and cornfields, people were wary but seemingly unrattled by the warnings from the authorities.
Wanda Bradley, 52, said that she was still planning to have children and grandchildren over for a barbecue this weekend.
“I won’t let it deter me, but we’ll keep our eye open,” she said.
When she heard the siren alerting the community to the escape on Thursday, Nancye Lane, 78, at first thought that she had lost track of the days. The prison usually tested that siren on Saturdays, she said. Then it dawned on her: “A person must have escaped,” she said.
Ms. Lane believed, however, that living so near to the prison gave her a kind of security in cases of escape. “First thing they’re going to do is go as far away as possible,” she said.
Ana Ionova contributed reporting from Brazil.