POTTSTOWN, Pa. — A murderer who brazenly escaped from a Pennsylvania jail was captured Wednesday in the woods by a team of tactical officers, bringing an end to an intensive search that terrified residents as the fugitive broke into homes for food, changed his appearance and stole a van and rifle during two weeks on the run.
Law enforcement’s big break came overnight as a plane fitted with a thermal imaging camera picked up Danelo Souza Cavalcante’s heat signal, allowing teams on the ground to secure the area, surround him and move in with search dogs.
“They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference. “Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred.”
Still armed with the rifle he stole from a homeowner’s garage, the fugitive tried to escape by crawling through underbrush. But a search dog subdued him, Bivens said, adding that he continued to resist as he was taken into custody after 8 a.m.
Cavalcante, 34, was bitten on the scalp and suffered a minor wound, Bivens said. A dog also latched onto his thigh, Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Clark told The Associated Press, “at which time, Cavalcante submitted.”
“I think he was in pain at that point,” Clark said. “He was probably in excruciating pain.”
Aerial news footage showed an officer wiping Cavalcante’s bloody head and face with a towel.
No shots were fired. About two dozen officers in tactical gear posed for a group photo with Cavalcante, drawing criticism from policing reform advocates and some members of the public who called it inappropriate.
“Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said.
Cavalcante was taken to a nearby state police barracks in an armored vehicle surrounded by a convoy with lights flashing and sirens blaring as it traveled down the highway. Two police helicopters followed above.
Cavalcante was arraigned at the Avondale barracks on an escape charge, according to the office of Judge Matthew Seavey. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 27. He was led out with his hands and bare feet shackled, wearing what appeared to be a hospital gown. Cavalcante was driven to a state prison outside Philadelphia to continue serving the life sentence he received last month for killing his ex-girlfriend.
The endgame for Cavalcante unfolded in southeastern Pennsylvania just beyond Philadelphia’s heavily populated western suburbs, in an area of woods, rolling farmland and a county park. Police brought in hundreds of law enforcement personnel with dogs, armored carriers, horses and helicopters that circled overhead.
Late Monday, a motorist alerted police to a man matching Cavalcante’s description crouching in the darkness along a line of trees near a road in northern Chester County. Police found footprints and tracked them to prison shoes identical to those he had been wearing. A pair of work boots was reported stolen from a porch nearby.
State police said they believe he was looking for a place to hide when he saw an open garage. There, he 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, state police said.
That led hundreds of law enforcement personnel to search an area of about 8 to 10 square miles near South Coventry Township, roughly 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Cavalcante was captured just inside the search perimeter.
“He was desperate, and it was just a matter of time,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said at the news conference.