KENNETT SQUARE, United States: For two weeks America held its breath as fugitive Brazilian murderer Danelo Cavalcante dodged drones, helicopters and law enforcement from the FBI to Border Patrol, only to be cornered Wednesday by a police dog which subdued him with just a “minor bite wound.”
Pennsylvania state police revealed the details of Cavalcante’s arrest at a press conference hours after he was taken into custody, following days in which the diminutive, convicted killer appeared to have an uncanny ability to elude hundreds of pursuing officers backed by special units in military style gear.
“Last night, shortly after midnight, a series of events started to unfold,” Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens of the Pennsylvania state police told reporters in Chester Country, in rural Pennsylvania.
A burglar alarm went off within a police perimeter, drawing law enforcement’s attention, and an aircraft picked up a heat signal in the woods, Bivens said.
With a storm breaking overhead the aircraft had to retreat, but in the morning police moved in on their target.
“They had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded,” Bivens said.
The 34-year-old still refused to surrender and instead tried to crawl away through thick underbrush while still clutching a stolen rifle, Bivens said.
At that point law enforcement released their K9 unit. “The dogs subdued him and team members... moved in. He continued to resist but was forcibly taken into custody,” Bivens said.
Footage on CNN showed heavily armed officers in camouflage handcuffing the Brazilian national and removing his shirt, revealing a large tattoo on his back, before placing him in the back of a police vehicle. In a photo released by state police, he appeared to have blood dripping down his forehead.
Cavalcante, who had been convicted of murdering his girlfriend - stabbing her dozens of times in front of her children - had just begun his sentence on August 31 when he climbed over the prison wall and cleared two razor-wire fences.
The Brazilian national, measuring just five feet (1.52 meters) tall, had raised the stakes on Tuesday by entering a private garage to steal a .22 caliber rifle with a scope - then dodging pistol gunfire from the pursuing homeowner to get away.
Police declared him “armed and extremely dangerous.”
Chester Country district attorney Deb Ryan told reporters one of the first calls made after Cavalcante’s capture was to his victim’s family, “who as you can imagine have been living in a complete nightmare.”
“They can now finally sleep again,” she added.
Security camera sightings
Police long struggled to narrow down the fugitive’s location in the heavily wooded area. However, Cavalcante repeatedly popped up on private security cameras and even trail cams meant to monitor wildlife, turning his escapade into a kind of grim reality TV show.
Stealing from houses, he succeeded in finding clothes, food, the rifle, a van and somehow even managed to get shaved. At Wednesday’s press conference, police offered to replace a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie that Cavalcante had apparently stolen.
On Tuesday, after the rifle theft, authorities set up roadblocks in the rural roads around Bucktown, Pennsylvania, where elite SWAT police and armored vehicles were also deployed.
In addition to flooding the search zone with messages warning residents, a decision was taken early Tuesday to close schools in the Oakland J. Robert school district.
‘Needle in haystack’
Defending against criticism that the police were inept in the manhunt, Bivens had called Cavalcante the “proverbial needle in the haystack.”
The director of Lundale Farm, some 40 miles (64 kilometers) outside of Philadelphia, 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 had upped the reward for information on Cavalcante’s whereabouts, from $20,000 to $25,000. Cavalcante is also wanted for murder in Brazil, where his name is officially listed with a different spelling: Danilo Souza Cavalcante.
It was not immediately clear if the newly recaptured convict would face new charges in the United States.
But Pennsylvania authorities were in celebratory mode, a large group of officers in camouflage even bunching up for a victory photo around the handcuffed Cavalcante.
“Our nightmare is finally over and the good guys won,” Ryan told the press conference.