The prisoner who is now the subject of a massive manhunt after escaping from a Pennsylvania prison last week had killed his ex-girlfriend in a brutal 2021 stabbing in front of her two young children, authorities say.
Danelo Souza Cavalcante, a 34-year-old who was convicted just last month in the killing, escaped from the Chester County Prison some 30 miles west of Philadelphia on Thursday morning, sparking a search involving hundreds of officers.
Investigators believe he escaped the facility by climbing onto the roof and fleeing from there, a law enforcement source told CNN.
The manhunt’s range expanded Tuesday morning after he was spotted in trail camera footage in Chester County, just south of the perimeter authorities originally believed him to be in. Two school districts canceled classes amid the search.
Cavalcante is a Brazil native who is roughly 5 feet tall with long, curly black hair and brown eyes, authorities have said. He is extremely dangerous and desperate not to get caught, officials have warned, and they’ve urged residents in areas near the prison to keep their doors locked, stay inside, check on each other and check their security cameras.
Cavalcante also is wanted in a 2017 homicide case in Brazil, according to the US Marshals Service.
Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Here’s what we know about him.
The gruesome murder
Prosecutors say Deborah Brandão, Cavalcante’s ex-girlfriend, was outside her home with her two children on April 18, 2021.
Cavalcante arrived, grabbed her by her hair, “threw her to the ground, and stabbed her 38 times in virtually every vital organ … causing her to bleed to death,” the Chester County district attorney’s office said in a Facebook post.
Brandão’s 7- and 4-year-old children ran to neighbors asking for help and Cavalcante fled, the district attorney’s office said.
The 7-year-old girl told police that when Cavalcante began stabbing Brandão, he said he was going to kill her, court records show.
He was arrested several hours later in Virginia, prosecutors said. Authorities believe he was attempting to flee to Mexico with the intention of heading later to Brazil, District Attorney Deb Ryan has said.
Schuylkill Township police were dispatched to the home at roughly 4:17 p.m. on the day of the killing, and found Brandão on the ground “with multiple stab wounds to the chest,” the district attorney’s office said.
A neighbor attempted lifesaving procedures on Brandão while they waited for emergency medical services to arrive, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after.
She was 33.
After the stabbing, Brandão’s 7-year-old daughter told police Cavalcante showed up at their house and “said he was going to do something bad to their lives and pulled two knives out from a black bag that was behind his back,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
The daughter said she was screaming and Cavalcante threw a rock at her, hitting her leg, police wrote in the affidavit.
After running to the neighbor for help, the girl looked outside and saw Cavalcante leave in a black car, the documents said.
Brandão’s sister, Sarah, said the two were best friends, and that when she learned about Deborah’s murder, her “world ended.”
Sarah told CNN Cavalcante went from being a friendly neighbor to a jealous boyfriend. Cavalcante and Deborah were both Brazilian and dated for about a year and a half, she said.
Deborah told her sister “he was nice to her, he was nice to her children, that he helped her,” but things changed over time, she said.
“She kept saying that he was extremely jealous, that when he drank he became a different person, that he kept going through her cell phone,” Sarah said.
Brandão had filed a protection from abuse order against Cavalcante in December 2020, according to the probable cause affidavit. The order alleges he had a history of assaulting Brandão and previously pulled a knife on her.
“This was a senseless tragedy that has impacted countless people due to the defendant’s cold, calculated, and heinous actions,” Ryan, who led Cavalcante’s prosecution, said last month.
“Ms. Brandão’s children are now left motherless and she will never have the opportunity to watch her children grow up, finish school, or have families of their own,” the district attorney said.
Brandão’s daughter testified in the case and “helped obtain justice for her mother,” the district attorney said. The girl also identified Cavalcante in a photograph shortly after the killing and told police, “That’s him, that’s the guy that killed my mom. Please get him and put him in prison,” the affidavit shows.
On August 16, 2023, Cavalcante was convicted of first-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime in the killing, according to the district attorney’s office. Just days later, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the office said.
Attorneys for Cavalcante told jurors during the trial that he was provoked and “snapped” when he attacked Brandão, and said he acted in the heat of passion, according to the Chester County newspaper Daily Local.
Sarah said she has been living in fear since Cavalcante’s escape from prison and is worried he will come after her.
“I haven’t slept for many days. Since then, I have been waking up with fright at night. I nap and wake up with fright,” she said.
Despite her fears, she believes the police will capture him.
‘Lock your doors. Lock your cars’
While officers continued their search for Cavalcante over the weekend, authorities urged residents in Pocopson Township, which is next to the prison, to stay in their homes.
“Lock your doors. Lock your cars. He is still considered an extremely dangerous individual,” Ryan, the district attorney, said in a Saturday news conference.
“People need to be on high alert. … He has killed someone. He’s alleged to have killed another person. So people need to take every precaution possible: Lock your doors, keep your eyes on your kids and keep your eyes on your neighbors and your friends,” Ryan had said a day earlier. “Everyone needs to be on high alert.”
Since his escape, there have been “several credible sightings” of him in an area within the township, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said in a Tuesday morning news conference.
Surveillance footage on Monday also captured Cavalcante in Longwood Gardens, a popular tourist attraction just south of the area authorities were searching near the prison, prompting the search area to shift, Bivens said.
The escapee also appeared to have obtained some items, including a backpack, a “duffel-sling type pack” and a hooded sweatshirt, Bivens said.
Bivens added that residents in the area should be alert, use caution and be aware of their surroundings.
“We’re asking them to lock their vehicles, if they don’t ordinarily do that,” he added. “And pay attention to what’s going on, pay attention to your neighbors, anything that’s unusual there. … But really, it’s vigilance that we’re looking for from people right now.”
“He’s clearly in escape mode, but he’s desperate,” Bivens said. “His history is that he’s a dangerous individual. … If we identify that he’s in a very specific area, my recommendation then would be, ‘Stay in your homes.’”
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Danny Freeman, Alessandra Freitas and Celina Tebor contributed to this report.
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