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Danelo Cavalcante has been captured, thanks to a police dog and thermal imaging

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante was "subdued" by a police dog as he tried to crawl away from tactical teams — but by then, he was surrounded, officials said on Wednesday.
Chester County District Attorney's Office
Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante was "subdued" by a police dog as he tried to crawl away from tactical teams — but by then, he was surrounded, officials said on Wednesday.

Updated September 13, 2023 at 12:52 PM ET

After eluding a manhunt for nearly two weeks, convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante has been captured, the Pennsylvania State Police announced Wednesday morning.

Authorities got an important clue to Cavalcante's whereabouts when a burglar alarm at a home was tripped shortly after midnight Wednesday, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said.

A DEA aircraft using thermal imaging equipment was then able to guide a tactical team that closed in on Cavalcante using "the element of surprise," Bivens said. As Cavalcante tried to crawl away from the area, Bivens said, a police dog was released, which successfully "subdued him," while inflicting "a minor bite wound" to his scalp.

Cavalcante, who was known to have recently stolen a rifle, was apprehended "with no shots fired," and no police officers were injured in the operation, Gov. Josh Shapiro said.

The escapee was repeatedly sighted

Since Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County jail on Aug. 31, encounters with the armed and dangerous man repeatedly raised alarms, as he stole a vehicle, a weapon and other items while on the run from authorities. He was spotted on multiple homes' doorbell cameras.

As of Tuesday night, police said they believed the escaped inmate was in an area of South Coventry Township (northwest of Philadelphia), where he had been spotted "shirtless and wearing blue pants, carrying a stolen .22 rifle with a flashlight."

The killer's capture unfolded over the early morning

Escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante is now in custody, police in Pennsylvania say. He's seen here in images taken on the night of Sept. 9 from a door camera.
Mark Makela / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 and remained at large for some two weeks. During that time, he was sighted on multiple doorbell cameras.

"Last night, shortly after midnight, a series of events started to unfold," Bivens said.

Officers responding to the burglar alarm didn't find anyone in the area. But an aircraft using FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) technology began tracking a heat signal. An electrical storm forced the aircraft away — but by then, tactical teams had reached the area, and they opted to hunker down in the darkness before aircraft could return.

"Shortly after 8 a.m., tactical teams converged on the area where the heat source was," Bivens said. "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. That did not stop him from trying to escape."

Cavalcante took the stolen rifle with him as he began to crawl through thick underbrush.

"One of the Customs and Border Patrol teams, BORTAC, had a dog with them. They released the dog," Bivens said, later adding that the Border Patrol tactical team had come from El Paso. He did not identify the dog that seized the escaped killer, saying only, "I believe he's a shepherd or a Belgian Malinois."

After his capture, Cavalcante's trip back to incarceration was followed from the air by a local TV news helicopter, culminating in his being marched into a red brick building at the state police barracks at Avondale. He walked under his own power, wearing dark shorts and a silver thermal blanket. The escapee had been wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie and long pants when he was apprehended.

Cavalcante famously escaped by "crab-walking" the walls of a narrow passageway — a scene that was captured on video. He broke out of the Chester County jail as he was poised to be moved to a state prison, where he is to serve a life sentence for killing his ex-girlfriend.

Capture ends a 'nightmare,' commissioners say

"The capture of Cavalcante ends the nightmare of the past two weeks," Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline said in a joint statement, as they thanked law enforcement officials.

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference that Danelo Cavalcante suffered a bite wound to his scalp from a police dog before he was taken into custody following an extended manhunt.
/ Pennsylvania State Police / Screenshot by NPR
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Pennsylvania State Police / Screenshot by NPR
Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference that Danelo Cavalcante suffered a bite wound to his scalp from a police dog before he was taken into custody following an extended manhunt.

The search for Cavalcante disrupted life for residents in areas where he was believed to be hiding, from school closures to roadside checkpoints — and the fear that he might break into homes or resort to more violence.

As they welcomed news of his capture, the commissioners also noted that the Chester County Prison has made changes to bolster security, including bringing in security contractors "to make permanent changes to the exercise yards," along with other improvements.

The convict was wanted in Brazil

Cavalcante was convicted of first-degree murder in August for stabbing and killing Deborah Brandão, 33, in 2021. Prosecutors said Brandão was outside her home with her young children when Cavalcante arrived and attacked her, stabbing her 38 times.

Investigators said Cavalcante had previously attacked and threatened Brandão — and, they said, he killed her after she threatened to tell police he was wanted for a killing in Brazil, his native country.

Brazilian media outlets say Cavalcante — whose first name is spelled "Danilo" in Brazil — was named in an arrest warrant over a 2017 killing in the town of Figueirópolis, hundreds of miles north of Brasilia, but he was able to board a flight out of the country because he wasn't flagged on a national registry.

NPR's Jonathan Franklin contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.