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More than 1,000 law enforcement officers searched for escaped killer David Sweat in rural upstate New York Saturday, a day after his fellow escapee was killed by authorities.
The search for convicted murderer Sweat exactly three weeks after the pair's elaborate prison bust is focusing on the rural towns of Malone and Duane in a 22-square-mile perimeter — the same area where his fugitive partner, Richard Matt, was fatally shot Friday afternoon.
As night fell, police took flood lights into the search area and examined vehicles at checkpoints. About 1,200 local, state and federal officials are involved in the search in the rural region, not far from the Canadian border.
Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill told The Associated Press Saturday that tips continued to pour in and he was optimistic Sweat would be captured, perhaps within 48 hours. "It's going to be one of those phone calls that turns this case around," he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that there is no evidence to suggest that the men were on the lam together when Matt was shot in a wooded area south of Malone, about 30 miles from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Matt, who had been armed with a 20-gauge shotgun, was struck by a member of a U.S. Customs and Border patrol tactical team.
Cuomo also said that there is also nothing to indicate that Matt and Sweat had split up since investigators determined they were rooming in a burgled cabin in nearby Owls Head on June 20 — six days before Matt was killed.
Authorities said DNA belonging to Matt was found in a second cabin, in Malone, four days later and only two days before Matt was killed nearby. There was no DNA found in that cabin to indicate that Sweat had been there, authorities said.
At least one other cabin in Malone appeared to be broken into on Friday, according to relatives of the man who found objects out of place in his hunting cabin when he went to check on it. Authorities have not stated or confirmed that the escaped prisoners had entered a third cabin.
"We went in, we looked. It wasn’t much. It was just a bottle that was misplaced, put somewhere else, spilled a little bit. The cap was off it," said Bob Willet Sr., whose son called him after discovering “a couple things out of place” in the cabin.
Fred Willet, Bob Willet Jr.’s uncle, said his nephew told him the cabin also smelled of alcohol and noticed shoes and binoculars missing or out of place.
Willet Jr. contacted authorities, Willet said, adding that his son heard gunfire shortly after he told officials his account of the apparent break in.
"We watch out for ourselves,” Willet said. "We’re happy one’s gone."
Matt's body was transported to Albany Medical Center for an autopsy, state police said Saturday.
Meanwhile, authorities established perimeters, manned checkpoints and deployed helicopters in pursuit of Sweat.
Local resident Rebecca Gronquist, who had troopers outside of her Malone home Saturday, told NBC affiliate WPTZ that the situation was "tense," but added, "with as many of the officers that are out there, good job they’re doing, I can’t really say that I’m scared."
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro told The Associated Press that Sweat is likely going to be easier to find following Matt's death.
"Now it's a one-man show, and it makes it more difficult for him," said Favro, whose officers are involved in the search. "And I'm sure fatigue is setting in for him as well, knowing the guy he was with has already been shot."
Eugene O'Donnell, a criminal justice and law professor at John Jay College, said that there's also a good chance Matt had skills that Sweat does not. "It’s unlikely they’re equals," O'Donnell, a former NYPD officer, told NBC News. "There’s something of a tag along person. One is more of a mastermind than the other."
No matter which of the cunning convicts was the schemer or planner, O'Donnell said, Sweat is at a disadvantage without his "support system."
Along with the swarm of law enforcement searching by air and land for Sweat, "there's all kinds of stuff in the woods there" that could pose a risk, especially to someone traveling stag in an exhausted state, O'Donnell added.
"What he most needs is some sort of a sounding board," he said.