THE fatal shooting of an escaped killer brought new energy to the three-week hunt for a second escaped murderer in the United States as helicopters, search dogs and hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on a wooded area 30 miles from the prison.
“Of course our preference would always be to capture them alive,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico told a news conference as he announced late on Friday the killing hours earlier of Richard Matt, one of two escaped murderers from an upstate maximum-security prison.
He credited a tip from the public, one of more than 2,300 received so far, for crucial information leading to the deadly confrontation in the town of Malone.
A second convicted murderer, David Sweat, has not been spotted since he escaped, though evidence was found a week ago indicating he was with Matt in a cabin that was burgled about three miles from any paved roadway, the superintendent said.
The pair escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility together on 6 June and Governor Andrew Cuomo called them “dangerous, dangerous men”.
Officers continued to focus yesterday on rugged terrain 30 miles west of the facility as they looked for Sweat. Police manned roadblocks in the neighbouring towns of Malone and Duane as a helicopter buzzed over the woods.
D’Amico said Matt was shot by a border patrol agent when he failed to comply with commands in the woods near a cabin where a shot had been fired earlier in the day at a camping trailer.
A 20-gauge shotgun was found on his body, though he did not fire it at officers, he added.
“They verbally challenged him, told him to put up his hands. And at that time, he was shot when he didn’t comply,” D’Amico said.
An intense search of the area led to a discovery on Friday morning of a camp where somebody apparently had laid down, leaving behind candy wrappers and other items, D’Amico said.
The breakthrough on Friday came shortly before 2pm, when a person towing a camper heard a loud sound and thought a tire had blown. Finding the tires intact, the driver went another eight miles before looking at the trailer and finding a bullethole.
Authorities converged on the location where the sound was heard and discovered the smell of gunfire inside a cabin, where a weapon had been fired. D’Amico said there was evidence that someone had fled recently.
“As we were doing the ground search in the area, there was movement detected by officers on the ground, what they believed to be coughs. So they knew that they were dealing with humans as opposed to wildlife,” he said.
After Matt was killed, a 20-gauge shotgun that was believed to be missing from the cabin he broke into last weekend was recovered from his body, D’Amico said.
“Based on that, we continued to search. We have a lot of people in the area. We have canines and we have a decent perimeter set up and we’re searching for Sweat at this time,” he said.
D’Amico said he had no information that Sweat was not with or near Matt, so a heavy search of the area would go on.
Police blocked off roads as officers hunted for Sweat in an area around Titusville Mountain State Forest in Malone, spanning 22 square miles.
Mitch Johnson said one of his best friends checked on his hunting cabin in Malone on Friday and called police after noticing the scent of grape- flavoured gin and spotting the bottle that had gone untouched for years resting on a kitchen table.
Johnson said his friend, correction officer Bob Willett, told him he summoned police about an hour before Matt was fatally shot and then heard a flurry of gun blasts.
Matt and Sweat used power tools to saw through a steel cell wall and steam pipes, broke through a 2ft-thick brick wall, squirmed through pipes and emerged from a manhole outside the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a sentence of life without parole for the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002.
Matt, 49, was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss.
The two men were added to the US Marshals Service’s 15 most wanted fugitives list two weeks after their escape.