The search for the fugitive that had been unfolding over nearly two weeks in the woods and the backyards of southeastern Pennsylvania was ominously different on Tuesday. Now, officials said the man they were looking for had a gun.
A little after 10 p.m. Monday, in a wooded area about 30 miles north of the jail from which he had escaped on Aug. 31, Danelo Cavalcante encountered a homeowner in an open garage, officials said on Tuesday morning. He grabbed a .22-caliber rifle that was leaning in the corner of the garage, and the homeowner drew a pistol and fired at Mr. Cavalcante as he fled with the rifle.
That Mr. Cavalcante — who has been convicted of murder in Pennsylvania and is wanted in connection with a killing in Brazil — is now armed raised the tensions and the stakes in the quiet suburban communities west of Philadelphia where the manhunt has taken place.
“We consider him desperate. We consider him dangerous,” Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said at a news briefing on Tuesday.
“He’s killed two people previously,” he added. “I would suspect that he’s desperate enough to use that weapon.”
The unease that hung over the towns in the south of the county, where Mr. Cavalcante had been apparently hiding for more than a week, had already spread north to the area around East Nantmeal Township, a bucolic stretch of stone barns, thick woods and cornfields. Authorities believed Mr. Cavalcante was in the area on Sunday, after they found a van he had stolen the day before from a dairy farm near the jail.
But a whole day passed after the discovery of the van with little sense, at least among the public, of where Mr. Cavalcante might be. Then in a matter of several hours, he was seen multiple times.
Around 8 p.m. on Monday, someone driving on a road not far from where the stolen van had been abandoned reported seeing a man crouching near the wood line, Colonel Bivens said.
After finding the footprints of Mr. Cavalcante’s prison-issued shoes at the scene of the sighting, a team of federal agents followed the trail into the woods. At some point Mr. Cavalcante stole a pair of work boots from a porch and left behind the shoes, which were found by officers in the manhunt. Two hours later, with searchers continuing to comb the area, Mr. Cavalcante encountered the homeowner in the garage and made off with the rifle.
Robert Clark, a supervisory deputy U.S. marshal, said in a brief interview that Mr. Cavalcante might have up to 10 rounds of ammunition.
Alerts sent to local residents warned them to stay inside, lock their doors and windows, and secure their vehicles, and asked them to review their surveillance camera footage. Officials advised schools in the area to close for the day. Searches of the area by federal, state and local officers began intensifying overnight, Colonel Bivens said, with “upwards of 500 law enforcement officers” gathering to set a new perimeter.
In a visit to the temporary command post at a firehouse in Unionville, Pa., Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania said he recognized that this was “a moment of deep worry and anxiety” in the area, but expressed confidence that Mr. Cavalcante would be caught soon. “We do feel like we’ve got this suspect contained,” the governor said.
But with the news of the gun, the nature of the emergency had changed.
Jason Mesiarik, 49, was at the door of his barn on Monday night, standing in the dark and checking updates about the manhunt on social media, when he heard gunfire, he said.
“A hair past 10 and all of a sudden I hear, ‘Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop!’” he said. The cracks of gunshots are not uncommon in this rural part of the county, but he could hear that this wasn’t a hunting rifle. And, he said, it sounded as if they were coming from across the road. “It doesn’t get any closer,” Mr. Mesiarik said.
Since then, his property has been swarmed by helicopters, spotlights and searchers in tactical gear, one of whom came to his door at 2 a.m. asking to search the barn. While the search intensified on his property, Mr. Mesiarik, having lived here for a decade, understood how challenging it would be.
“It’s thick woods here,” he said.
Michele Bauer, who lives down the road, said the woods and fields around the region were filled with barns, sheds and abandoned hunting stands. “It’s a rough area to find somebody,” she said, “because there’s so many places to hide.”
Joel Wolfram and Elise Young contributed reporting from Ludwigs Corner, Pa. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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