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 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, according to Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens:
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.
But the alarm attracted nearby search teams to the area. At around 1 a.m., a Drug Enforcement Administration plane with a thermal imaging camera picked up a heat signal. Searchers on the ground began to track and encircle it.
Storms moving in with rain and lightning forced 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 prevent Cavalcante from slipping away once again.
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 away from where the burglar alarm went off.
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.
“The 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 a search dog — either a shepherd or a Belgian Malinois — to pursue him.
The dog subdued Cavalcante in a struggle, leaving Cavalcante with a bleeding scalp wound, until law enforcement personnel handcuffed him. From the time law officers moved in to the time they captured Cavalcante took about five minutes.
“It played out fairly quickly once they had identified him and moved in, and he detected them at that point once they were already in position,” Bivens said.
Cavalcante had stolen a rifle during his flight, but no shots were fired as he was taken into custody.