(CNN) — The convicted murderer who escaped a Pennsylvania prison late last month is once again behind bars, now facing additional charges, after a nearly two-week manhunt that captured national attention and put the surrounding community on edge.
Police caught Danilo Cavalcante, 34, by surprise in the woods of South Coventry Township on Wednesday morning, where a police dog played a critical role in his dramatic capture.
The escaped inmate was planning to leave the country, according to Robert Clark, supervisory deputy US marshal for Pennsylvania’s eastern district.
“His endgame was to carjack somebody and to head north up to Canada and he intended to do that in the next 24 hours,” Clark told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.
Clark, who did not speak with Cavalcante, cited what deputy marshals told him about an interview that the prisoner had with law enforcement officials after his capture.
“He said the law enforcement presence where he was, was immense and he felt that he needed to leave,” Clark said.
Cavalcante is now being held in a Pennsylvania maximum security prison, State Correctional Institution – Phoenix, in Montgomery County, where he will serve a life sentence for his murder conviction.
He’s now also been charged with felony escape, and is due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on September 27, court records show.
An attorney has not been listed on court documents for Cavalcante and the public defender’s office declined to comment at this time. Pennsylvania authorities updated the spelling of Cavalcante’s first name to Danilo in court documents Wednesday.
The inmate, who was convicted last month of first-degree murder for the killing of his former girlfriend and sentenced to life in prison, escaped from Chester County Prison in a rural area some 30 miles west of Philadelphia on August 31.
He managed to evade authorities for 13 days, hunkering down in wooded areas, moving at night, and in the early days, surviving off stream water and a watermelon he found at a farm, authorities said.
During his time on the run, Cavalcante slipped through search perimeters, was spotted inside homes, stole a dairy van, changed his appearance, showed up at the doorsteps of people he knew years ago, stole a firearm and got shot at by a homeowner.
During the manhunt, hundreds of law enforcement officials searched through challenging, heavily wooded terrain, in some cases, just missing the escaped inmate.
“We came close a couple of times where he was able to allude us,” Chief Chester County Detective David Sassa told CNN. “He told us at some points, the tactical teams walked past him.”
The terrain was so thick that law enforcement officers standing just five feet apart could not see each other, Sassa said.
“He was resourceful. He did the things he knew he could do. He wanted to shelter in the woods,” Sassa added. “He did things that he was comfortable with, he moved at night, he told our investigators that at some points he stayed still for a day, a day and a half.”
When he was captured in South Coventry Township – roughly 20 miles from the facility he escaped from – Cavalcante had the appearance of someone who was in the woods for an extended period of time, and looked stressed, Bivens said Wednesday.
“Which is exactly what we were trying to do all along,” Bivens said. “The whole point was to keep him stressed, keep him moving, and keep him off his game.”
More than 20 officers in tactical gear and camouflage uniforms took Cavalcante into custody Wednesday, escorting him to an armored vehicle. He was handcuffed with blood on his face and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie, video showed.
About 500 law enforcement officers – including members of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and US marshals – had set up a perimeter in South Coventry Township this week to search for Cavalcante from the ground and the air.
Nearly 2 weeks on the run
Cavalcante answered investigators’ questions after his capture without hesitation, Clark told CNN.
“Shortly after he escaped from the prison, he had hunkered down in an area that was very, very secluded, very, very wooded and he didn’t move for the first couple days,” Clark said, citing Cavalcante’s post-capture interview with investigators. “He survived on a watermelon that he found at a farm, he drank stream water, he was hiding his fecal matter under leaves and foliage so that law enforcement couldn’t track him.”
Cavalcante told investigators that officers searching for him nearly stepped on him three times – or came within yards of him – as he hid in the woods, Clark said, without indicating when these near-encounters happened.
“Three times, he described that law enforcement officials almost stepped on him within 7 or 8 yards,” Clark said. “That just proves to you how thick the vegetation and the foliage was.”
The rifle Cavalcante took from an open garage Monday night added a heightened sense of danger to the search and the surrounding community.
Cavalcante escaped the prison by “crab-walking” between two walls, scaling a fence and traversing across razor wire before disappearing into the forest.
“This person had high capabilities that maybe a municipal prison isn’t always set up for but now we know we have to be set up for these things,” Josh Maxwell, chair of the Chester County prison board, told CNN Wednesday night.
Another inmate broke out of the Chester County jail in May by climbing up to the roof, just as Cavalcante did, according to court documents obtained by CNN. That inmate, Igor Bolte, was captured in a nearby residential neighborhood just minutes after his escape and returned to custody.
Investments are being planned to shore up prison security, including added fencing around prisons, Maxwell said.
“There’s still 600 folks in the prison and we’re making investments right now to ensure that there isn’t any way that someone can follow this route ever again,” he said.
‘Our nightmare is finally over’
“Our nightmare is finally over,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said Wednesday morning.
Ryan said one of the first calls she made after Cavalcante’s capture was to the family of the woman he killed, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão. Prosecutors say Cavalcante stabbed Brandão 38 times in front of her two young children in Pennsylvania in April 2021.
Sassa said he was one of the detectives to respond to the scene of that “horrific” murder.
“I was in that trial. I watched him, he showed no emotion. He did not apologize … To see a week later, him escape the way he did was shocking to me,” Sassa said.
Brandão’s family had been “barricaded inside their homes not feeling safe anywhere” since his escape, Ryan said.
“They were shrieking with joy and happiness that he’s incarcerated,” Ryan said. “They have lived their own personal nightmare.”
Brandão’s sister, Sarah Brandão, said in a typed statement after Cavalcante’s capture that her family is “profoundly grateful for the support and hard work performed” by law enforcement.
The escape and days that followed evoked the feeling of losing her sister again, Sarah said.
“The past two weeks were extremely painful and terrifying, as they brought back all the feelings of losing my sister and the idea that this criminal could hurt us again,” the statement, which was translated into English, reads.
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