Escaped Pa. prisoner survived on watermelon, was almost stepped on during search

Law enforcement's big break came overnight as a plane fitted with a thermal imaging camera picked up his heat signal.

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Escaped prisoner survived on watermelon, stream water: Sources
Escaped prisoner Danelo Cavalcante survived on watermelon, stream water before capture: Sources

POTTSTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Danelo Cavalcante received no help after breaking out of the Chester County Prison, and he survived on watermelon and stream water before he was captured on Wednesday, according to investigators.

The escaped prisoner crab-walked up two walls out of the prison on August 31. He was able to find a watermelon patch while on the run for 14 days.

Authorities also say he told law enforcement he was almost stepped on by police at one point during the search. And to avoid detection, Cavalcante covered his own fecal matter along his trail.

SEE ALSO: Escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante taken into custody after 2 weeks on the run

Law enforcement's big break came overnight as a plane fitted with a thermal imaging camera picked up his heat signal, allowing teams on the ground to secure the area, surround him and move in with search dogs.

"They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise," Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference. "Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred."

Cavalcante - still armed with the rifle he stole from a homeowner's garage - tried to escape by crawling through underbrush. But a search dog subdued him, said Bivens, adding that Cavalcante, who was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt, continued to resist as he was taken into custody after 8 a.m.

The bloodied Cavalcante was pulled from an armored vehicle and taken into Pennsylvania State Police's Avondale barracks around 930 a.m.

SEE ALSO: How police captured escaped prisoner Danelo Cavalcante in Chester County, Pa.

How police captured escaped prisoner Danelo Cavalcante in Chester County, Pa.

Inside, law enforcement interrogated Cavalvante as they tried to nail down his movements.

The 34-year-old emerged from the barracks after four hours of interrogation wearing a hospital gown. He said nothing as reporters shouted questions before being taken to SCI Phoenix.

Dozens of nearby residents had gathered to get a glimpse and waited hours.

"We heard on the news that he was caught," said resident Scott Lamborn. "Seemed exciting to watch him roll through the doors."

The Action Cam and Chopper 6 were there as Danelo Cavalcante was placed into a police vehicle on Wednesday afternoon.

Sandra Carter of Coatesville saw the police activity and went to the barracks to see if police had gotten their guy.

Residents on the scene said there's a collective feeling of relief around here that Cavalcante is now behind bars.

"I'm just glad that he's captured. Gives a lot of relief for people. It's good to know that everybody's safe again," Lamborn added.

Cavalcante was arraigned at the Avondale barracks on an escape charge, according to the office of Judge Matthew Seavey. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 27. He was led out with his hands and bare feet shackled, wearing what appeared to be a hospital gown.

His escape and capture were big news in Brazil, where prosecutors in Tocantins state say he is accused of "double qualified homicide" in the 2017 slaying of Válter Júnior Moreira dos Reis. Authorities say it was over a vehicle-repair debt the victim owed him.

Pennsylvania authorities even broadcast a recording of Cavalcante's mother speaking in Portuguese imploring him to surrender peacefully.

Cavalcante received a life sentence in Pennsylvania in August for killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, in front of her children in 2021. Prosecutors say he wanted to stop her from telling police he was wanted in the Brazil killing. He had been arrested in Virginia after Brandao's killing, and authorities say they believe he was trying to return to Brazil.

The prison tower guard on duty when Cavalcante escaped was fired. The escape went undetected for more than an hour until guards took a headcount.

SEE ALSO: Timeline and Interactive Map: The hunt for escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante

Timeline: Manhunt and capture of Danelo Cavalcante