Escaped Chester County prisoner stole rifle, fled homeowner’s gunfire; remains at large

Residents in East Nantmeal and South Coventry townships are asked to lock all external doors and windows, secure vehicles, and remain indoors.

What you need to know

  • Authorities are entering Day 14 of a massive search for 34-year-old Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped Chester County Prison on Aug. 31.
  • Police say Cavalcante is armed and have advised East Nantmeal and South Coventry residents to stay indoors.
  • A newly shaven Cavalcante tried to make contact with a former coworker in East Pikeland Twp. and abandoned a stolen van in East Nantmeal Twp. when he ran out of gas.
  • Last week, officials released stunning video footage of the prisoner’s escape.

This story originally appeared on 6abc.

The escaped murderer who has been on the loose in Chester County, Pennsylvania for nearly two weeks is now armed with a rifle, state police say.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, was spotted Monday night and managed to steal the firearm from a garage.

Video from Chopper 6 on Tuesday morning showed armed crews in tactical gear walking through fields, forests and backyards looking for Cavalcante.

State police say it all began around 8 p.m. Monday when a motorist spotted a man crouched along the woodline on the south side of Fairview Road west of Route 100 in East Nantmeal Township.

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She turned around to get another look, police say, but by that time the man was gone.

Troopers and a border patrol tactical team responded to the scene and found footprints in the mud identical to the prison shoes Cavalcante was wearing, police said.

Police tracked the footprints and found both of the prison shoes had been discarded. Police say another resident in the immediate area reported a pair of work boots had been stolen from the porch of her home.

At 10:10 p.m., police say Cavalcante entered the garage of a home on the 3500 block of Coventryville Road while a homeowner was inside. Cavalcante grabbed a .22 caliber rifle that was leaning in the corner.

That rifle has a scope and flashlight, police said. Police noted that Cavalcante also has ammunition that was with the firearm.

The homeowner, who police say was armed with a pistol, fired several shots at him. However, police say they do not have any evidence that Cavalcante was hit.

Police found a green sweatshirt and white t-shirt, believed to belong to Cavalcante, discarded near the edge of the driveway.

New search perimeter established

The current search perimeter is bordered by Route 23 to the North; Route 100 to the east; Fairview and Nantmeal roads to the south; Iron Bridge and County Park roads to the west.

Upwards of 500 law enforcement are engaged in securing the current perimeter, which is three miles to the east and west and two miles north and south.

‘I believe he is still in Chester County’

Cavalcante slipped out of the original search area over the weekend, changed his appearance, stole a dairy delivery van and tried to contact acquaintances.

His attempts to contact acquaintances were unsuccessful, though he was recorded on doorbell video. The van has been recovered.

However, Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said authorities remain concerned that Cavalcante will try to steal another vehicle.

During an afternoon news conference, Bivens also said there is no longer a defined search area, but said police were following up on information and tips from the public.

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He said residents of East Nantmeal Twp., where the van was found, and other parts of northern Chester County may see an increased police presence as the search continues.

“Without information to the contrary, yes, I believe he is still in Chester County,” Bivens said. “But, with that said, we will always consider other options.”

Police announced Monday that the reward for information leading to Cavalcante’s capture has grown to $25,000.

Bivens also gave a stern warning to anyone who may be helping Cavalcante evade police.

“We will prosecute you fully for those actions,” he said. “Alternatively, I would suggest that if you are in a position to help facilitate the safe capture of Cavalcante, if you choose to assist us, you could be eligible for some or all of the reward that has been offered.”

ATF special response team helping with search

Police and other members of law enforcement continued to be out in force Monday as the manhunt continued.

Action News was there when the most recent addition arrived to take part in the search: members of an ATF special response team from Virginia.

They arrived, and staged, at the Nantmeal United Methodist Church with a bearcat armored vehicle, two K9 units, and approximately two dozen agents.

They join hundreds of other investigators searching this part of Chester County because this is near where escaped killer Cavalcante dumped the stolen van.

People who live around here say East Nantmeal has always been the kind of place where people leave their doors unlocked, until now.

“I’ve talked to multiple people yesterday that were scrambling to get home and lock their doors because we didn’t expect it to get this close,” said Kathleen Brady of East Nantmeal.

Deadly force authorized for Pa. state police

Lt. Col. George Bivens said state police are authorized to use deadly force if Cavalcante isn’t actively surrendering.

Other agencies involved in the search may have their own rules, he noted.

Several law enforcement agencies put more stringent requirements in place for preauthorization of different levels of force in the wake of national protests and calls for policing reforms after the killing of George Floyd by police.

The Pennsylvania State Police regulations republished in July outline specific scenarios where deadly force is justified including to prevent the escape of someone who has committed a violent felony such as murder and who could pose a threat to the community.

By preauthorizing the use of deadly force for troopers if Cavalcante does not surrender, State Police officials are eliminating a potential delay.

Bivens vowed to “aggressively continue” the search with the aid of federal, state, county and local resources and expressed confidence that the fugitive would eventually be recaptured.

“This is a minor setback,” he said. “We’ll get him, it’s a matter of time.”

Doorbell camera footage of Danelo Cavalcante
These images captured by a doorbell camera shows Danelo Cavalcante on the night of Sept. 9, 2023 in East Pikeland Twp., Pa. (Pa. State Police)

Cavalcante caught on doorbell video

Police say Cavalcante tried to contact someone he had known and worked with several years earlier at 9:52 p.m. Saturday in East Pikeland Twp. However, that person was at dinner with his family and did not respond.

Cavalcante was recorded on a doorbell camera, and the homeowner contacted police around 12:30 a.m. after returning home, Bivens said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.

Images from that video show Cavalcante is clean-shaven and wearing a green hooded sweatshirt, black baseball cap, green prison pants and white shoes, police said.

Cavalcante obtained the sweatshirt from the stolen van, police say. It’s not known how he was able to shave.

Police have also learned about a sighting of Cavalcante at the home of another former work associate at 10:07 p.m. Saturday.

That associate was not home, but police were called by the friend of a female resident who spotted him.

As for the stolen van, police say Cavalcante abandoned it in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township after he apparently ran out of gas. It was found around 10:40 a.m. Sunday.

Investigators have been searching around that area since that time.

Bivens said the theft of the van was not noticed until police canvassed the area looking for a stolen vehicle. Police say Cavalcante was able to steal the van because the keys were left inside.

Police are now concerned he may try to steal another vehicle, so residents are being asked to secure their cars and property.

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