Escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante nabbed, and how a dog named Yoda helped collar him

Mark Makela/Getty Images

(PHILADELPHIA) — A fugitive who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison just days after being sentenced to life without parole in the fatal stabbing of his ex-girlfriend was captured early Wednesday after he tried to crawl away and was taken down by a law enforcement K-9 named Yoda, Pennsylvania State Police said.

Danelo Cavalcante was captured at 8:14 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. He was found hiding in or near a large pile of logs behind a John Deere store in South Coventry Township, about 30 miles from a county-run prison where he escaped 14 days ago.

“Today is a great day in Chester County. Our nightmare is finally over and the good guys won,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro began the news conference by announcing Cavalcante’s capture, praising “the extraordinary work of law enforcement officials” from local, state and federal agencies.

Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said a federal Drug Enforcement Administration fixed-wing aircraft using infrared imaging technology picked up a heat source in the area of South Coventry Township around 1 a.m., but a lightning storm forced the aircraft to land.

Bivens said a state police tactical unit and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection team from El Paso, Texas, quickly surrounded the area and maintained a perimeter until Wednesday morning when they moved in. Bivens said Cavalcante didn’t realize he was cornered until he saw the officers coming toward him.

“Tactical teams converged on the area where the heat source was. They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise,” Bivens said. “Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred.”

He said Cavalcante did not surrender immediately. He said the fugitive tried to get away by crawling through thick brush while armed with a .22-caliber rifle he stole from a nearby residence Wednesday night.

Bivens said Yoda, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois from the Border Patrol team, was sent in and was able to help detain Cavalcante, biting him at least once. No shots were fired.

There were no injuries to law enforcement officers, Bivens said.

“The dog subdued him and team members from both of those teams immediately moved in,” Bivens said. “He continued to resist, but was forcibly taken into custody.”

He said Cavalcante was bitten on the scalp and was treated at the scene.

Asked why lethal force was not used when Cavalcante resisted, Bivens said, “That option is only to prevent the escape of a very dangerous individual.”

“Had they not been able to contain him, that would have remained an option,” Bivens said, adding that 20 to 25 officers were involved in Cavalcante’s arrest.

Shortly after the arrest, a large group of officers posed for a photo with Cavalcante, who was in handcuffs, soaking wet and wearing a gray Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt he allegedly stole during his time on the lam. He was also wearing dark work boots he swiped from a residence Wednesday night and dark pants he was wearing when he escaped, officials said.

“I’m aware that there was a photo op that was taken out there. Those men and women worked amazingly hard through some trying circumstances. They’re proud of their work,” Bivens said. “I’m not bothered at all by that. They took a photo with him in custody.”

Cavalcante was loaded in the back of an armored vehicle and driven to the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Avondale, where investigators hoped to question him, Bivens said.

As the armored vehicle carrying Cavalcante approached the police barracks in Avondale, some residents in the area lined the roadway cheering, pumping their fists in the air and applauding.

“I can assure you he will not escape while he is in our custody,” Bivens said.

Cavalcante was arraigned Wednesday on a felony escape charge and denied bail, court records show. He is scheduled to next appear in court on Sept. 27 for a preliminary hearing.

Bivens said Cavalcante will eventually be transferred to a state prison to begin serving out his life sentence for the brutal 2021 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, who was stabbed 38 times in a Schuylkill Township, Pennsylvania, home in front of her two young children.

The end of the 14-day manhunt for the 34-year-old Cavalcante came as a relief to residents in Chester County, who had been advised by officials to stay alert and keep their doors and windows locked. Several schools in Pocopson Township canceled classes as the search for Cavalcante intensified.

A combination of tactical teams from Pennsylvania State Police, FBI and Border Patrol brought Cavalcante into custody, according to a law enforcement source.

Cavalcante, who officials said is also wanted in his native Brazil on homicide charges, escaped from the Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township on Aug. 31.

Cavalcante was noticed missing that morning about an hour after his escape after inmates returned from the exercise yard at the prison, where he was being held pending transfer to a state correctional institution.

He had scaled a wall to gain access to the roof and pushed through razor wire before jumping down to a less secure area to make his getaway, Howard Holland, the acting warden of the Chester County Prison, told reporters during a recent press briefing.

Cavalcante followed the same method of escape and route used by an inmate at the Chester County Prison, Holland said. Inmate Igor Vidra Bolte broke out of the prison in Pocopson Township on May 19 by scaling a wall in an exercise yard to gain access to the roof, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News.

Holland noted that “one key difference” between the two escapes was the actions of a tower guard whose primary responsibility was to monitor inmates in the exercise yard.

“In Bolte’s escape, the tower officer observed the subject leaving the yard area and contacted control immediately. That is why Bolte was apprehended within 5 minutes,” Holland said. “In the escape of Cavalcante, the tower officer did not observe nor report the escape. The escape was discovered as part of the inmate counts that occur when the inmates come in from the exercise yard.”

Cavalcante escaped from the prison by “crab walking” up a wall, pushing his way through razor wire installed after Bolte’s escape, running across the prison roof and scaling more razor wire, Holland said.

The corrections officer on duty in the guard tower at the time was terminated on Sept. 7, officials said.

Holland said during the press briefing on Sept. 6 that steps are being taken now to completely enclose the eight exercise yards at the prison, which are now open-air. He said additional security cameras will also be installed and additional officers will be on the ground to help the tower officers monitor the inmates in the exercise yards.

The search for Cavalcante was initially centered in an area near the Chester County Prison, where he had been spotted multiple times, officials said.

A citizen reported seeing a man matching Cavalcante’s description on Sept. 7 running through the area near Longwood Gardens, a sprawling horticulture attraction located about 5 miles southwest of the prison, said Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police. The search perimeter shifted toward Longwood Gardens, and Calvalcante was spotted two more times in the search area on Sept. 8, state police said.

Bivens said nearly 400 people from multiple agencies were engaged in the manhunt on Sept. 8, adding that they will “keep up this search at whatever tempo is appropriate for as long as we need to. He’s a dangerous individual.”

A Chester County jury on Aug. 16 convicted Cavalcante of first-degree murder in the fatal 2021 stabbing in Brandao.

The jury took just 15 minutes of deliberations before voting unanimously to convict Cavalcante.

Prosecutors said Brandao was killed after she learned Cavalcante was wanted for murder in Brazil and threatened to expose him to police, officials said in a statement following Cavalcante’s conviction.

Following Brandao’s murder, Cavalcante fled to Virginia, where he was arrested and brought back to Pennsylvania to face justice for Brandao’s killing.

Brandao’s sister, Sarah Brandao, released a statement on Instagram following the arrest, thanking law enforcement officials for capturing Cavalcante.

“Right now, my family and I need to regroup and focus on processing everything that has happened while taking care of ourselves,” wrote Sarah Brandao, who along with her family lives in the Chester County area where the search was being conducted.

During the search for Cavalcante, Sarah Brandao and her family members were placed under 24-hour protection, Ryan said at a recent news conference.

“The last two weeks have been extremely painful and terrifying as they have brought back all the feelings of losing my sister and the idea that the criminal could crush us again,” Sarah Brandao wrote.

It was the second time in less than two months that a dangerous inmate had escaped from a Pennsylvania lockup. Inmate Michael Burham, who is a suspect in the rape and murder of a 34-year-old woman in Jamestown, New York, escaped from the Warren County Jail in northern Pennsylvania on July 6.

Burham, an Army reserve sergeant who authorities said was a “self-taught survivalist,” was captured on July 15 following a massive manhunt in the northern Pennsylvania woods.

ABC News’ Luke Barr contributed to this report.

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