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.”
Blood streaming down his face and clad in a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt that he had apparently stolen during his days on the run, the diminutive Cavalcante was surrounded by dozens of officers clad in military-style gear in images shown on US television.
Pennsylvania state police revealed the details of his arrest at a press conference after he was dramatically nabbed in thick underbrush by the K9 unit in rural Pennsylvania, where he had spent days dodging law enforcement.
“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 County.
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 which “subdued him and team members… moved in. He continued to resist but was forcibly taken into custody,” Bivens said.
An eyewitness described the surge of energy as police closed in.
“We basically just saw them storming, checking the tree lines, checking the stream and out of nowhere everybody started to congregate back by the shed and here they were already bringing him out,” store manager Jim Martin told NBC Philadelphia.
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.
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.
Measuring just five feet (1.52 meters) tall, Cavalcante 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 County 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 said that they would replace the Eagles hoodie for whoever Cavalcante had allegedly stolen it from.
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 area schools.
– ‘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.
Originally published as US police finally subdue Brazilian fugitive after manhunt