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Missed Opportunity?: Prison Lock Down Denied a Week Before Killers’ Escape

Officials Say Search for Escaped Prisoners Has Gone Cold 2:24

It's possible guards could have thwarted the Dannemora prison break before it even started.

Officials had requested a full lock down and search of the New York prison following a melee there a week before two convicted killers escaped — but the request was denied, several sources told NBC News.

A cell-by-cell search that accompanies such lock downs could potentially have discovered the plot by convicted murderers Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, to escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., on June 6, sources said.

Matt and Sweat remained on the run on Tuesday night, as a manhunt for the two men stretched into an eleventh day.

More than five sources with knowledge of the events at the prison confirmed there was a fight or a “melee” in one of the yards on May 31st. The melee involved 30-40 inmates.

Did Joyce Mitchell want escapees to kill her husband? 2:56

The sources say the fight in a prison yard — which only lasted around 30 seconds — was “gang related” and began as a scuffle between two members of a Bloods gang and a member of a "Muslim gang." There were only minor injuries.

There were no weapons found at the scene. Multiple sources say there was a partial search of the facility following the fight, but not a full prison "lock down."

According to sources, a full prison "lock down" restricts all inmates to their cells and is followed by a thorough cell-by-cell, bed-by-bed search through the entire facility.

The sources say state protocol requires the prison to get clearance "from Albany" before that kind of lock down can happen. The request was sent to the commissioner’s office at the state Department of Corrections but was turned down, sources said.

Less than a week after the prison brawl and request for a lock down, Sweat and Matt used power tools to saw through cells and pipes and make their way through a tunnel system, climbing out of a manhole about a block away from the maximum-security facility.

The state Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lock down request, saying in a statement that that "there are a number of ongoing probes into the escape at Clinton Correctional Facility."

A prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, has been arrested and charged with aiding in the escape attempt. She is charged with a felony count of promoting prison contraband, a felony and a misdemeanor count of criminal solicitation.

Mitchell, 51, is accused of bringing hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit into the prison five weeks before the escape. She has pleaded not guilty.