Schools outside Philadelphia were closed and residents told to lock their doors Tuesday after an escaped Brazilian murderer dodged gunfire to steal a rifle from a home and was declared "extremely dangerous."
Danelo Cavalcante, who made a daring escape from Chester County Prison nearly two weeks ago, has become the subject of fear and fascination for Americans as he avoids police dogs, drones, helicopters and special armed units.
Authorities set up roadblocks in the wooded, rural area around Bucktown, Pennsylvania, where elite SWAT police and armored vehicles were also deployed.
Although police have failed to corner the convicted killer, the Brazilian national has popped up repeatedly on residential security footage and even nature cameras set up to monitor wildlife, turning his criminal exploits into a grim reality TV show.
Since climbing over his prison wall on August 31, the 34-year-old has been able to steal new clothing, food and a van which he later abandoned, and managed to get a shave.
On Monday night, he raised the stakes by breaking into a home garage near Bucktown and taking a .22 caliber rifle with a scope and flashlight attached to the weapon, Pennsylvania police spokesman George Bivens told a press conference.
The homeowner confronted the fugitive and opened fire with a pistol but appeared to have missed the fugitive, who got away.
Cavalcante's jailbreak came a week after he was sentenced to life for slaying his girlfriend by stabbing her dozens of times in front of her children in 2021. He is also wanted for murder in Brazil, US police say.
Cavalcante's mother, who lives in rural Brazil, told the New York Times in an interview that she wasn't surprised he was able to give the authorities the slip -- just as he did in Brazil after allegedly killing a man there.
"His training was his suffering," Iracema Cavalcante told the paper, recounting her son's poor, rural upbringing.
She also despaired about him facing life in prison in the United States, saying "it's better to die soon" than to "go to a place and suffer and die in that place."
Cavalcante, just five feet (1.52 meters) tall, is "considered armed and extremely dangerous," Bivens said.
In addition to flooding the search zone -- a wide area west of Philadelphia -- with messages warning residents, a decision was taken early Tuesday to close schools in the Oakland J. Robert school district.
"We're not evacuating homes at this point. We're asking residents to be vigilant and, again, lock their doors," Bivens said.
- 'Needle in haystack' -
The police spokesman said there were around 500 officers, including heavily armed tactical units, combing the area, but that they are hampered by the wooded terrain.
Defending himself against criticism that the police have been inept in the manhunt, Bivens called Cavalcante the "proverbial needle in the haystack."
Helicopters buzzed over an area that included Lundale Farm, some 40 miles (64 kilometers) outside of Philadelphia. Its executive director, Becki Patterson, said police were "walking through our property, walking through the woods."
She said the area has "trees, creeks and bridges and all kinds of corners (where) you could sneak around."
"It's been very stressful."
Police have upped the reward for information on Cavalcante's whereabouts, from $20,000 to $25,000.
There have been several sightings of the convict so far, including some in which he was shirtless, while in others he is wearing a hoodie.
Police say Cavalcante had changed his appearance, shaving off the dark beard and mustache seen on his original "wanted" poster.
Police also said that the escapee had abandoned a stolen 2020 White Ford Transit van, reportedly taken from a dairy in West Chester. He'd apparently run out of fuel.
Prison officials last week released a video showing how Cavalcante was able to escape.
It shows the convict, then wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, crab-walking up two parallel walls and then climbing to the roof before making his way over two razor-wire fences.