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Two weeks on the run: Escaped Pa. killer survived on watermelon and planned a carjacking to Canada

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante "wanted to carjack somebody and head north either towards Canada or he intended to get to Puerto Rico,” Robert Clark with the U.S. Marshals said.
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Danelo Cavalcante, the convicted murderer who spent two weeks on the run after a daring prison break, survived by eating watermelon from a farm and hiding his fecal matter and had planned a carjacking to flee the state, officials have revealed.

Cavalcante, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her two young children, escaped Chester County Prison in Pocopson Township on Aug. 31. After two weeks of an exhaustive search, the 34-year-old was captured Wednesday morning.

After he was caught, Cavalcante confessed to investigators his plans to slip out of the country and divulged how he survived on the lam, Robert Clark, the supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal in the eastern district of Pennsylvania, said on NBC News’ Top Story with Tom Llamas Wednesday night.

“Early in the investigation he stated that he had found watermelons on a watermelon farm, and he was living off watermelon, he was drinking from the stream, he was moving at night only," Clark said.

Despite multiple sightings that left Chester County on high alert, he hid by hunkering down under thick, practically impassable brush. He also changed his appearance after he took a backpack from a residence, found a razor inside and shaved.

“He went so far as to hide his fecal matter so that law enforcement wouldn’t be able to determine the spots where he was bending down,” Clark said.

Cavalcante told authorities after his arrest that he had intended to carjack somebody using a rifle he stole from a garage Monday evening.

“His end game was to carjack somebody, that’s why he needed to obtain a weapon, that’s why he held onto that rifle," Clark said. "He said the law enforcement presence was overwhelming in the area of the second perimeter and he decided he wanted to carjack somebody and head north either towards Canada or he intended to get to Puerto Rico."

"That was his plan in the next 24 hours so there wasn’t a better time for us to locate and apprehend him," he added.

Clark noted the environmental factors in the search were arduous: extreme heat, thick vegetation and sprawling wilderness.

“Ultimately, when we conducted a post-arrest interview, he admitted to those factors. There were times, at least three times, where law enforcement officers were almost stepping on him, and the area was saturated so he felt that he needed to move locations,” Clark said.

Danelo Cavalcante Captured
Danelo Cavalcante is taken into custody in Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Pennsylvania State Police via Getty Images

He explained that the goal in nabbing Cavalcante was to set up a tactical perimeter, cut off resources, prevent communication to the outside world and stress out the fugitive — "make him make mistakes, make him move."

That plan finally came to fruition Wednesday.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft picked up a heat signature believed to be Cavalcante around 1 a.m. Wednesday and teams flocked to the area. But severe weather moved in and the aircraft had to leave the area. Tactical teams held that inner perimeter overnight until they could continue tracking the heat signal in the morning.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, a Border Patrol tactical unit (BORTAC) and Pennsylvania State Police Team closed in.

"He was given verbal commands to come out of the hiding spot that he was in. He did not. He actually started crawling away and at that point the tactical canine was release," Clark said.

That's when Yoda, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois BORTAC K9, bit Cavalcante on the crown of the head and a lower extremity.

Yoda, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, aided in the arrest of Danelo Cavalcante.
Yoda, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, aided in the arrest of Danelo Cavalcante. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

"I'm sure Cavalcante was in excruciating pain. He then submitted to some of the verbal commands and the tactical teams were able to take him into custody," Clark said.

Pennsylvania authorities held a news conference Wednesday morning announcing the long-awaited capture. Photos of his arrest showed Cavalcante handcuffed and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said on NBC’s "TODAY" show Thursday morning that he was "incredibly proud" not only of law enforcement, but of Chester County residents who "remained vigilant."

"There was no loss of life, there was no threat in the community, thank God, and ultimately at the end of the day we found ourselves in the position of seeing the best of law enforcement. Law enforcement at every level — state, local and federal — coming together to apprehend this suspect, to capture him without incident."

Cavalcante was convicted Aug. 16 of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing a 33-year-old former girlfriend Deborah Brandão and had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is also wanted in his native Brazil in connection with a 2017 slaying there.

Since his prison break, he has been hit with a felony escape charge.

He was moved Wednesday afternoon to a maximum security prison in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

“Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won,” Deb Ryan, the Chester County district attorney, said Wednesday after Cavalcante was taken into custody.