UNIONVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Thermal imaging equipment in the air, experienced search teams working through a stormy night, a search dog and the element of surprise all played critical roles in the capture of escaped murderer Danelo Souza Cavalcante on Wednesday morning after a 14-day manhunt across southeastern Pennsylvania’s rolling farmlands and forests.
Some of the hundreds of law enforcement personnel searching on foot and from the air finally located Cavalcante near the outer perimeter of a nearly 10-square-mile (16-square-kilometer) search zone. The cordon was set up when Cavalcante was seen Monday just after dark crouching near a tree line and, two hours later, fleeing from a garage.
Here’s how they caught Cavalcante:
The first possible sign of Cavalcante that alerted searchers was a burglar alarm shortly after midnight Tuesday. Law enforcement personnel investigated it and did not find him, according to Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens.
But the alarm attracted nearby search teams to the area, including a plane newly provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency received a request Tuesday night in an effort to get more thermal imaging technology involved in the search.
Around 1 a.m., the DEA plane’s thermal imaging camera picked up a heat signal. Searchers on the ground began to track and encircle it, Bivens said.
Storms moved in with rain and lightning, forcing the plane to leave the area. Search teams stayed put and tried to secure a perimeter around where the heat signal had been, aiming to stop Cavalcante from slipping away once again.
The searchers on the ground got into a ring that was tight enough that “they were within eyesight of each other on the inside perimeter,” said Robert Clark, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in Philadelphia.
Later in the morning, the plane returned along with more search teams. Shortly after 8 a.m. a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol team moved in on Cavalcante in a wooded area, about a half-mile (0.8 km) away from where the burglar alarm went off, Bivens said.
Cavalcante had been lying prone, likely to avoid detection, when search teams of about 20 to 25 members got close enough for him to realize they were there.
“They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred,” Bivens said.
Cavalcante began to crawl through heavy underbrush to try to escape, prompting the Customs and Border Patrol team to release their search dog — a Belgian Malinois named Yoda — to pursue him.
“They actually gave him verbal commands. He refused the verbal commands. He attempted to crawl away,” Clark said.
The dog subdued him in a struggle, leaving Cavalcante with a bleeding scalp wound.
He was first bitten on the forehead, then the dog clenched his thigh and held on, Clark said. That’s when Cavalcante submitted, and officers got him in handcuffs.
“I think he was in pain at that point,” Clark said. “He was probably in excruciating pain.”
From the time law officers moved in to the time they captured Cavalcante took about five minutes, Bivens said.
Cavalcante had stolen a rifle during his flight. But no shots were fired during the final tense minutes of the chase.