Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Update from the Chester County Press: Cavalcante captured

09/13/2023 04:09PM ● By Richard Gaw

A photograph of Danelo Cavalcante at the time of his capture on Sept. 13.            Photo courtesy of the Chester County District Attorney's Office

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

One of the most compelling and dramatic chapters in Chester County history came to an end on the morning of Sept. 13, when escaped fugitive and convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante was apprehended without incident by about two dozen fully-armored members of a U.S. Customs Border Control Tactical Unit from El Paso, Tx. and the Pennsylvania State Police, as well as the assistance of a search canine, shortly after 8:00 a.m.

“Today is a great day here in Chester County,” said Chester County Attorney Deb Ryan at a press conference held at the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company two hours after Cavalcante’s capture. “Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the first responders for their tireless and dedicated efforts in bringing this fugitive to justice. They worked around the clock, and we are deeply grateful to all of them.

“Our community can finally regain its normalcy and breathe a sigh of relief.”

“I want to say, ‘Thank you’ to the dedicated law enforcement professionals from every level who each and every day leave their homes and their oved ones to keep us safe,” said Gov. Josh Shapiro, who spoke at the press conference. “The public, over the past 13 days, has had a chance to see what excellence in law enforcement means – what true, dedicated professionalism is all about.

“While they did extraordinary work, we had a tremendous assist from the public here in Chester County. Thank you for their diligence. That you for the constructive tips that they shared. Thank you [to them] for remaining on guard.”

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens – who headed the investigation -- said that authorities established a perimeter in the vicinity of South Coventry Township in the early morning hours of Sept. 13 that set off a series of events, beginning with a burglary alarm that sounded at a residence near Prizer Road, which is within the search perimeter.

The alarm put investigative focus to the area as tactical teams – joined by a fixed-wing aircraft piloted by the Drug Enforcement Administration that used Forward-Looking Infrared Technology -- began to converge and comb the location.

At around 1:00 a.m., helicopters were alerted to a heat signature located west of Route 100 and north of Prizer Road and began to track its location. While a storm that produced lightning forced the aerial investigation to be abandoned throughout the early morning hours of Sept. 13, tactical teams held the search area until the storm subsided.

“There are always things we have to contend with – everything isn’t scripted and doesn’t go perfectly,” Bivens said of the need to down the aircraft. “We secured that inner perimeter while always keeping our outer perimeter secure, so that if he did manage to escape the inner perimeter, we would be able to box him in yet again.”

At 8:00 a.m. – with aerial resources back in use overhead – the teams moved closer to the heat source until they found Cavalcante, who attempted to escape by crawling through thick underbrush, carrying the rifle he stole in the area on Sept. 11, which he did not engage during his escape attempt.

The Border Police released the canine search dog who quickly disabled Cavalcante, and with assistance from the Pa. State Police, they moved in to capture the fugitive, who sustained a minor bite wound from the search canine. Bivens said that had authorities not been able to contain Cavalcante during his apprehension, they would have had the authorization to use deadly force.

“Canines play a very important role, not only for tracking, but in a circumstance like this, it is better to release a patrol dog than have to use lethal force,” Bivens said.

After being taken into custody, Cavalcante was transported to the Pennsylvania State Police Avondale station for further processing and interviewing. He will then be transferred to an as-of-yet-unnamed state correctional institution, where he will begin to serve a life sentence for killing his former girlfriend Deborah Brandao in front of her children in 2021. Ryan said that one of the first calls made by the authorities was to the Brandao family.

“As you can imagine, they had been living in a complete nightmare,” Ryan said. “They are so grateful to the men and women who helped with this capture. They can now finally sleep again.”

Throughout the entirety of the two-week manhunt for Cavalcante, there was not only evidence that the fugitive sought assistance but speculation that he did indeed receive help in his desire to escape authorities.

“There were people who were intent and intended to assist him,” said Bevins, who said that Cavalcante’s sister was trying to help her brother. “We have been successful in preventing that assistance from reaching him.”

Bivens said that Cavalcante’s sister is currently in deportation proceedings.

Chester County Prison under fire

On the heels of the successful capture of Cavalcante, an unanswered black hole in this investigation continues to draw a rash of public criticism in the community: The Chester County Prison’s failure to properly contain not only Cavalcante but prisoner Igor Bolte, who escaped by similar means from the prison in May before being quickly captured. On several social media outlets, the prison’s procedures have been excoriated over the past two weeks for what posts deem is a lack of internal controls, leading to fear that a third escapee may flee the prison in the near future.

“[Chester County officials] will answer those questions as to what occurred and what changes are ultimately going to be made,” Gov. Shapiro said. “Certainly, the State Department of Corrections will be here to assist in any other work that they need done to make sure that that facility is secure.

“They obviously have a lot of work to do there, and I am confident that under the leadership Chairwoman [Marian] Moskowitz, District Attorney Ryan and other leaders in the county, that they’ll get that done.”

To address – and perhaps quell the public outcry over the effectiveness of the Chester County Prison -- the Chester County Commissioners will host two upcoming town meetings that will provide information on security enhancements at the prison. The meetings will be held on Sept. 18 and Sept. 20 beginning at 7:00 p.m. at Pocopson Elementary School, 1105 Pocopson Road in West Chester.

Attending the meetings with the Commissioners will be Chester County Acting Warden Howard Holland, Chester County Director of Emergency Services Bill Messerschmidt, and a team from the Chester County Disaster Crisis Outreach Referral Team (DCORT), who will offer trauma-informed counseling support at the meetings and information on further counseling services.

“The nightmare of the past two weeks may have concluded with the capture of Cavalcante, but there are many questions that we know our residents have, especially those who live close to the prison,” said Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline in a statement issued on Sept. 13 at 3:30 p.m. “These town hall events will serve to provide an update on prison security and emergency communication and will also give us the chance to listen to residents and answer their questions.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].