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Pennsylvania prison fires tower guard on duty when killer escaped as hundreds of officers scramble to find missing inmate

<i>Aaron Cooper/CNN</i><br/>
Aaron Cooper/CNN

By Holly Yan, Aya Elamroussi and Aaron Cooper, CNN

(CNN) — The Pennsylvania prison tower guard who did not see or report the escape of convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante nine days ago has been fired, a source with knowledge of the decision tells CNN.

A massive manhunt involving hundreds of officers is underway for Cavalcante, who is still on the run despite a growing number of reported sightings.

“We can confirm that the corrections officer on duty when Danelo Cavalcante escaped was terminated yesterday afternoon,” the source told CNN. “He was an 18-year veteran of the prison.”

Cavalcante broke out of the Chester County Prison on August 31 by “crab walking” between two walls, scaling a fence and traversing across razor wire.

“We pulled more people in through the night last night, some additional help from other agencies, from our own agency,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens told reporters Friday.

“We have got somewhere north of 350, close to 400 people working on this today as we speak.”

The fugitive’s escape from the prison – about 30 miles west of Philadelphia – has rattled nearby residents and inflicted fear among his victim’s grieving family.

And more sightings of Cavalcante have been reported, including about eight or nine credible sightings, Bivens said Friday.

At least three sightings were made in or around Longwood Gardens, about 3 miles from the prison. One was from a trail camera Monday night, another was reported to police around noon Thursday, and a third was from a trail camera image Wednesday that wasn’t discovered until Thursday evening.

Guests were asked to leave the botanical gardens Thursday as the entire venue closed for the manhunt. Police swarmed the botanical gardens, but did not catch the killer.

Despite Cavalcante’s elusive streak, Bivens said he is confident the fugitive will be caught.

“We’ve got a large perimeter secured,” he said Friday. “That is a pretty secure perimeter that we can push hard against with the tactical team.”

When asked why the number of officers didn’t swell to about 400 until more than a week after the escape, Bivens said the number of officers can fluctuate.

“We had as many as we needed for the various operations that we had going on,” he said.

“It doesn’t do us any good to bring in all of those resources and pull them from other places because they are not just sitting around with nothing to do. They’ve got policing functions elsewhere when they’re not here. So there’s a balance there.”

Convicted of one murder and suspected in another

Cavalcante, 34, was convicted of first-degree murder last month for the 2021 killing of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão, in Chester County.

Authorities said Cavalcante stabbed Brandão 38 times in front of her two children, who are now in the care of her sister.

Cavalcante also is wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, his native country, a US Marshals Service official has said.

Since Cavalcante escaped, Brandão’s relatives in the area are living in fear, barricading themselves inside their home, Chester County District Attorney Deborah Ryan said Thursday.

“They do have protection, and they are terrified. They haven’t left their home,” Ryan said. “We do have police detail around them 24 hours a day, but I know they’re very, very worried.”

The sightings

Investigators believe Cavalcante has been spotted multiple times in Chester County, though authorities have not provided specific details on all the reports.

Here’s what we know about some of the sightings before Thursday:

• August 31: Cavalcante is seen on jail surveillance video escaping from Chester County Prison. The video showed him “crab-walking” between two walls in an exercise yard – placing his hands on one wall and his feet on another – and shimmying up out of view, said the prison’s acting warden, Howard Holland. Cavalcante then ran across a roof, scaled another fence, and got through razor wire, Holland said.

• September 1: A resident of Pocopson Township – where the prison is located – said he saw Cavalcante inside his home Friday, taking food before leaving, CNN affiliate WPVI reported.

• September 2: Cavalcante was spotted on surveillance video about 1.5 miles from the prison, authorities said.

• Monday: A security camera recorded the fugitive at Longwood Gardens, authorities said.

• Tuesday: An area resident reported seeing Cavalcante in a creek bed on the resident’s property, Bivens said.

A $20,000 reward is available

Authorities urged residents to be vigilant, saying Cavalcante is dangerous and violent. Residents in the area should lock their homes and car doors, Bivens said.

The fugitive is about 5 feet tall with long, curly black hair and brown eyes. Police are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to Cavalcante’s arrest.

“Cavalcante has clearly already obtained some clothing and other unknown supplies, and we want to minimize any opportunity that he might have to get anything more,” Bivens said. “It is very important we keep the pressure on him as we continue this hunt.”

Some in the community are growing restless over the lack of a capture.

Alex Pyle, who manages Brandywine Ace Pet and Farm located near the edge of the search area, said Wednesday the manhunt has caused confusion for many customers.

“A lot of chaos. A lot of speeding vehicles, cop cars going to and from. A lot of customers looking at the roadways and wondering, ‘Is this road gonna be open?’ A lot of phone calls, ‘Hey are you open,’” Pyle told CNN affiliate KYW. “I know where the customer base is still a little scared and anxious for this to be over.”

Customers have asked to buy security cameras, hoping to spot Cavalcante, Pyle said. Others have been looking for coolers to take on road trips until Cavalcante is captured.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Samantha Beech, Danny Freeman, Brian Todd, Andy Rose and Linh Tran contributed to this report.

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