The manhunt for an escaped fugitive in the Philadelphia suburbs appeared to escalate on Friday afternoon as attention focused on the area around a sprawling botanical garden where the escapee had been seen twice in recent days.
The number of officers searching for Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from the Chester County Prison on Aug. 31, grew to nearly 400, with multiple helicopters circling and officials abruptly closing roads in an area near Longwood Gardens. Mr. Cavalcante, who was convicted of stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death, had been photographed by a trail camera at the gardens Wednesday night and then spotted there again around noon on Thursday.
There were two confirmed sightings of Mr. Cavalcante within the search area on Friday, a spokesman for the state police said. But the manhunt was still continuing on Saturday morning.
Also on Friday, local officials said the jail had fired a corrections officer who was on duty when Mr. Cavalcante clambered up to a roof to escape.
An 18-year veteran of the jail, the officer, who was not named, had been stationed in a watchtower but failed to see Mr. Cavalcante escape the exercise yard. He was put on administrative leave earlier this week and fired on Thursday, said Michelle Bjork, a spokeswoman for the Chester County Commissioners’ Office.
At a news conference on Friday morning in a temporary command post, set up in a firehouse in the town of Unionville, Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said that he was “optimistic” that the search would wear down Mr. Cavalcante and that authorities would capture him when he inevitably made a mistake. But Colonel Bivens also cautioned that Mr. Cavalcante, who fled from Brazil after allegedly committing a separate murder there in 2017, was “no stranger to hardship” and had been the subject of a manhunt before.
“After the crime that he committed down there, he did something very similar to this in the jungle,” Colonel Bivens said. “So it’s not surprising to me that he’s able to last out there for a while.”
Brazilian authorities said that in 2017, Mr. Cavalcante shot and killed Valter Júnior Moreira dos Reis in a town square in Figueirópolis, a rural region in the northern part of the country. Mr. Cavalcante worked on a cattle ranch, managing livestock and machinery, said Dayane Moreira dos Reis, the sister of the man who was killed. She said he had a fearsome reputation around town.
“My brother mentioned to us at home that he had a lot of access to guns,” Ms. Moreira said in a phone interview.
Ms. Moreira said that Mr. Cavalcante and her brother had been close friends, but that in summer 2017, Mr. Cavalcante began sending him threatening texts. She urged her brother to stay away from town, but in November of that year, he returned to pick up a new driver’s license. Early one morning, he was hanging out in the town square with friends, when Mr. Cavalcante arrived, Ms. Moreira said. “I left,” she said. “When I got home, I heard the shots.”
Mr. Cavalcante shot Mr. Moreira six times, according to the police, then fled. The police said the motive of the crime was an unsettled debt related to the repair of a vehicle. Authorities combed the area but couldn’t locate Mr. Cavalcante.
Ms. Moreira said her family was fearful now that Mr. Cavalcante was out of prison. Her mother, in particular, is worried that Mr. Cavalcante might return to Brazil, as prosecutors in Chester County believe he had been trying to do since he was captured in 2021 after killing Deborah Brandão, his ex-girlfriend.
Ms. Brandão’s older sister, Silvia, who lives in Brazil, said that Deborah had moved to the United States in 2017, bringing her two small children a few years later. “It was her dream, to give them an education, a better life,” she said.
Deborah had met Mr. Cavalcante through mutual friends at a neighborhood barbecue, her sister said in a phone interview on Friday. “He seemed eager to please,” she said.
They dated for over a year, but Mr. Cavalcante’s personality seemed to change, and he began acting more aggressively, she said. Ms. Brandão decided to end the relationship, her sister said, but Mr. Cavalcante refused. According to testimony at his trial, Mr. Cavalcante became physically abusive, even threatening to kill her. When Ms. Brandão learned that he was wanted for murder in Brazil, she said she would tell the police if he came near her.
He showed up at her house one day in April 2021. And with her children watching, he pulled out two knives, threw her to the ground and stabbed her 38 times. As Ms. Brandão’s daughter ran away, she later testified at the trial, he threw a rock at her.
Now, with Mr. Cavalcante roaming free, Silvia Brandão said her family was worried about their safety. “We fear for our own, we fear for our families,” she said, noting she is especially concerned for her other sister, Sarah, who lives in Pennsylvania and is caring for Deborah’s children.
“I hope that everything works out,” she said, “that all this ends soon and we are left in peace.”
Paulo Motoryn contributed reporting from Brasília.