Manhunt continues after prison escape in Pennsylvania; Danelo Cavalcante remains at large

Robert Buffum’s quiet neighborhood has been swarming with law enforcement over the past few days.

The 48-year-old father of five hears the constant hum of circling helicopters above his home. He passes multiple police checkpoints on short drives around Mendenhall, a small town in southeast Pennsylvania, where he’s lived for over two decades.

Buffum is one of thousands of residents whose daily lives have been disturbed by Danelo Cavalcante – a convicted killer who escaped from the Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 – and the exhaustive search to find him. Many remained on edge as the massive manhunt for Cavalcante, 34, entered its seventh day Wednesday.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies using helicopters, drones and dogs focused their efforts on a perimeter a few miles south of the prison in hopes to force the fugitive into a mistake as he grows more tired, hungry and desperate.

Cavalcante made his way out of the Chester County Prison, about 25 miles west of Philadelphia, last Thursday morning just days after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for brutally stabbing his ex-girlfriend Deborah Brandao to death in front of her two children.

Cavalcante made his escape while waiting to be moved to a state prison. Officials have been tight-lipped about how he managed to flee; however, multiple news outlets reported the method he used was similar to that of another inmate who escaped the same prison this year.

‘For my children especially, I’m very concerned’

Chester County’s Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and the Kennett Consolidated School District extended schools closures from Tuesday into Wednesday.

“This is a difficult scenario to navigate and we appreciate your patience as we try to keep up with events as they unfold,” read a statement from John Sanville, superintendent of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. “Please know that our desire is to bring students into school – but we must weigh that against the circumstances and logistics that we face in the interest of the safety of our students and community.”

Four of Buffum’s children, ages 3 to 8, attend schools well within the current search perimeter. They stayed home Tuesday and Wednesday.

U.S. Marshals and local officials have offered a $10,000 reward for Danelo Souza Cavalcante after he escaped from a Pennsylvania prison on Aug. 31, 2023

Buffum has made a habit of checking on his friends and neighbors and has begun to make frequent patrols around his property. He also put up security cameras around his house and has been monitoring them constantly over the past few days.

“For my children especially, I’m very concerned,” he said. “I don’t want him to get into my house. I’ve been on high alert since he got out.”

Local bakery owner says business has slowed amid manhunt

Deisy Tapia, 30, has owned Deisy’s Cake Shop in the the Kennett Square Historic District for three years. She told USA TODAY on Wednesday that business has slowed since late last week.

“It’s not common for us to be this slow, especially this time of year,” she said. “I guess people aren’t going out.”

Tapia said she’s had to drive her 9-year-old daughter to and from the private school she attends since her local school district, which provides bus transport, shut down.

Her daughter “started crying and was scared,” after Tapia told her of Cavalcante’s escape, the business owner told USA TODAY.

“She’s young, so she doesn’t understand much but the little that she can understand is definitely impacting her,” Tapia said, adding, “It’s definitely traumatizing, to some point, for the younger kids.”

How did Cavalcante escape from prison?

Officials in Chester County haven’t officially said how Cavalcante escaped the county-operated prison, where another inmate managed to break out earlier this year. But multiple news outlets, citing law enforcement sources, reported investigators believe he escaped by climbing up onto the roof of the building.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported he ran across the roof and then dropped down to a less secure area, a similar escape method to Igor Bolte, who was caught nearby hours after escaping in May.

USA TODAY has reached out to Chester County officials for comment on his escape method.

Research shows that prison escapes, while uncommon in general, usually happen in low-security and locally run facilities, said Bryce Peterson, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and senior research scientist at the CNA Center for Justice Research and Innovation. He said it’s hard to estimate how many prison breaks happen in the U.S. because there’s no comprehensive national data on them.

Peterson’s research includes a 2016 report analyzing over 600 inmates who escaped prisons and jails in 2009. He told USA TODAY that in most cases, prison escapes aren’t as sensational as movies make them seem. Low-level offenders may simply walk away, or don’t return if they’re out on a work release.

“That happens much more frequently than people breaking out of a facility, overcoming a barrier, overcoming a guard,” he said.

Cavalcante’s case is not the norm, Peterson said.

While Cavalcante is on the loose, there’s not a guarantee that he may commit more violence. Peterson said in his research, less than 9% of escapees used violence in the community – but the more motivated someone is to stay out, the more likely they are to use violence.

The pending transfer to a state facility could have been a “catalyst event” prompting his escape, which Peterson said makes him more motivated to not get caught.

“The two things that are important are: It’s unlikely he will use violence – not to say it can’t happen,” Peterson said, “And, almost always in these situations … people are going to get caught.”

Where are police searching for Cavalcante?

Police initially set up a perimeter around Pocopson Township, a residential neighborhood near the Chester County Prison, where Cavalcante had been spotted multiple times over Labor Day weekend. Officials on Tuesday shifted the perimeter south after a trail camera spotted Cavalcante on Monday night at Longwood Gardens, a popular botanical garden usually bustling with locals and tourists that was also closed on Wednesday because of the search.

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said during a news conference Tuesday that Cavalcante’s recent movement was a positive development because he is “feeling the pressure” and is running out of options.

“You’re dealing with someone who is desperate and doesn’t want to be caught,” Bivens said. “If he can find some shelter, if he can find some food, he’s going to take advantage of whatever he finds.”

Residents warned to keep homes, cars locked and be vigilant

He encouraged local residents in the area to keep their home and cars locked since Cavalcante is likely looking for supplies and food. Bivens also asked that people check their home surveillance cameras and check on their neighbors while Cavalcante, who is considered extremely dangerous, is still on the run.

From speakers in cars and helicopters, authorities have blasted a recording they obtained from Cavalcante’s mother in Portuguese, asking her son “to surrender peacefully.”

Authorities are also offering a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to his capture.

Danelo Cavalcante, a convicted killer, is shown on a trail camera Monday night in Longwood Gardens, several miles south of the Chester County Prison.

Contributing: Ken Alltucker, USA TodayThe Associated Press

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