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How fugitive killer Danelo Cavalcante eluded capture for nearly two weeks

How fugitive killer Danelo Cavalcante eluded capture for nearly two weeks
  • PublishedSeptember 13, 2023

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“Friends,” the farmers said in a Facebook post, “our delivery van was stolen last night between 7-10PM while we were still here working. It is believed that Cavalcante used it to flee the Pocopson area.” 

Cavalcante drove the 2020 Ford van some 20 miles north to East Pikeland Township and Phoenixville, where he tried to get in touch with old acquaintances, according to Bivens. He was recorded on a doorbell camera yet again, this time without a dark scraggly beard and mustache. He was clean-shaven, sporting a green hoodie sweatshirt and a dark cap.

The van was found abandoned in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township on Sunday morning, state police said. The vehicle had run out of gas, Bivens told reporters.

The incident raised questions about how Cavalcante was able to breach the search perimeter that had centered on the botanical gardens.

“No perimeter is 100% secure,” Bivens told reporters Monday. “It’s not a wall. It doesn’t have a ceiling. It doesn’t have, you know, all of the things that you might normally use if you’re trying to contain someone. We use the human element. We use technology and so forth to be able to try and secure the perimeter as best we can. I am aware of some of the weaknesses.”

“Longwood Gardens presented some very unique challenges, and I believe he exploited one of those weaknesses,” Bivens added.

Giacalone, the retired NYPD sergeant, explained the nature of a search perimeter in similar terms: “It’s not like you’re putting a literal fence around the place. It’s not a cage match in a wrestling ring.”

The rifle

On Monday night, the fugitive’s time on the run took an even more harrowing turn.

Around 10:10 p.m. ET, a homeowner called police and reported that a short, shirtless man had snuck into his garage and grabbed a .22-caliber rifle leaning in the corner, Bivens told reporters, confirming that the intruder was Cavalcante. The homeowner, who was in the garage at the time, opened fire at Cavalcante as he “fled with the rifle” into the night, Bivens said.

Police responded to the home on Coventryville Road minutes later — but by then, Cavalcante was gone. Near the edge of the driveway, officers found a green sweatshirt and a white T-shirt.

That wasn’t the only tip that officers got on Monday night. Around 8 p.m., a motorist reported seeing a male crouched in the wood line along the south side of Fairview Road, west of Route 100. She turned her car around to get a better look, but by then he wasn’t there.

In a news conference on Monday after Cavalcante was confirmed to be armed with the rifle, Bivens was asked what had “gone wrong” with the manhunt and again defended officers in the field.

“Sir, I don’t know why you would think something has gone wrong,” Bivens replied. “Our law enforcement people have done an amazing job tracking him and locating him — that proverbial needle in the haystack, and they’ve located that needle repeatedly.”

“I believe we will be successful in the long run,” he added.

The capture

Danelo Cavalcante Captured
Danelo Cavalcante is taken into custodyin Pennsylvania, on Wednesday. Pennsylvania State Police via Getty Images

Two days later, in the early hours of Wednesday, Bivens was proven correct: Law enforcement officers finally started to zero in on their target.

Close to 1 a.m., a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft hovering over the wooded search area picked up a heat signal that it began to track, Bivens told reporters. At one point, a burst of lightning forced the aircraft to retreat. But a few hours later, tactical teams converged on the area where the heat source had been detected.

“They were able to move in very quickly,” Bivens said. “They had the element of surprise.” 

Officers surrounded Cavalcante, but he still seemed to think he could get away. He started to crawl through a thick underbrush, stolen .22 rifle in tow. The officers released a U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit dog, who chased after the fugitive and “subdued” him. The officers moved in.

Cavalvante “continued to resist,” Bivens said, but was “forcibly taken into custody.” Nobody was injured in the arrest, though the killer “sustained a minor bite wound” from the K-9. 

Photos and videos showed him being taken inside Avondale State Police barracks, shirtless and wrapped in a foil blanket.

“He was desperate, and it was just a matter of time,” Gov. Josh Shapiro told reporters.

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