Timeline: How the manhunt for escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante unfolded

The frantic manhunt for escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante came to an end Wednesday following a two-week-long search that paralyzed rural Pennsylvania communities.

Authorities said they used thermal imaging from a fixed wing aircraft to track and eventually take down the 34-year-old near a Chester County tractor supply business.

His escape from Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 sparked an all-out manhunt that flooded tight-knit neighborhoods with hundreds of law enforcement agents.

Search parties spent days scouring the lush terrain near Longwood Gardens and were forced to expand their search 20 miles north when Cavalcante snuck past their perimeter in a stolen van. 

The manhunt heated up in the countryside town of East Nantmeal, where Cavalcante ditched the stolen van and was spotted near a wood line by a woman who alerted police. That same night, Cavalcante, desperate for a hiding spot, entered an unlocked garage where he stole a .22 caliber rifle before encountering a homeowner who fired several shots but missed the fugitive. 

Pennsylvania State Police established and refined search perimeters as their manhunt shifted to East Nantmeal Township. Authorities got a bead on Cavalcante using thermal imaging technology aboard a fixed wing aircraft and tracked him to a weak hiding spot near a tractor supply business Thursday morning where a mix of heavily armed Boarder Patrol Agents and Pennsylvania State Police Troopers surrounded and captured the fugitive. 

While many questions remain about how Cavalcante managed to elude authorities for two weeks and survive rough terrain in various weather conditions, below is a review of what we know so far:

Murder of Deborah Brandao

Danelo Cavalcante was convicted of stabbing Deborah Brendao over 30 times in front of her children.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, was convicted in August for the 2021 stabbing death of his former girlfriend Deborah Brendao, who prosecutors say was stabbed over 30 times while her children were present. A probable cause affidavit shows Brandao filed a Protection From Abuse Order against Cavalcante in 2020, a year before she was murdered. 

Authorities say Cavalcante was wanted for a 2017 shooting death of Valter Junior Moreira dos Reis in his native Brazil. It's believed Cavalcante killed the man over a debit the victim owed to him for a vehicle repair. 

Prosecutors believe he killed Brandao because she learned of the murder in Brazil and threatened to expose him. In a statement from the Chester County District Attorney's Office, they concluded that it was the motive for Brandao's grizzly murder. 

Cavalcante was served a life sentence without the possibility of parole in late-August. Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 31, Cavalcante breached the prison wall and sparked a massive manhunt.

Cavalcante's escape from prison

Cavalcante acrobatically escaped Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 by using his arms and legs to climb up the walls of a narrow corridor. From there, he passed through razor wire and jumped from the roof to freedom. His escape closely mirrored a strategy used by another inmate who briefly escaped custody earlier this year.

Cavalcante's escape went undetected for more than an hour until guards took a headcount. Days after the escape, a veteran prison tower guard who was on-duty when Cavalcante fled was fired. 

The guard, who was put on administrative leave after the escape, also had his personal cell phone on him at the time, a violation of jail protocol, county spokesperson Michelle Bjork said.

The first sightings

Two days after his escape, Cavalcante was captured on camera walking through the backyard of a home in Pocopson Township during the early morning hours. The first sighting of the escaped killer happened a little over a mile away from Chester County Prison. 

Two days later, Cavalcante was captured twice on a private trail camera walking shirtless near the dense woods surrounding Longwood Gardens – about five miles away from the prison. Authorities soon after issued a $20,000 reward for information leading to arrest of Cavalcante. 

Each sighting prompted a swarm of law enforcement that grew in size with each response. Police laid out search perimeters and focused the manhunt on the small communities within that often times included lush wooded areas that complicated the search. 

Cavalcante escapes search perimeter

Over a week after escaping prison and eluding hundreds of law enforcement officers from local departments and federal agencies, Danelo Cavalcante managed to slip past the heavily guarded search perimeter in Kennett Square in a stolen van. 

Authorities say Cavalcante found an unlocked van with the keys left inside at a local dairy business, and used that vehicle to drive roughly 20 miles north to the Pheonixville area where he ditched the car with little-to-no gas left in the tank.

In a desperate plea for help, Cavalcante - clean-shaven and wearing a light-green hoodie - visited the home of a former work associate. Authorities say the unidentified person was out to dinner with his family when the fugitive was at his doorstep, but he spoke to him and turned over the footage to police. 

Cavalcante steals rifle

The manhunt heated up in East Nantmeal Township when a driver reported seeing a person matching Cavalcante's description crouching near a wood line off a country road. The sighting brought a flood of law enforcement officers to the area, and police set up a new search perimeter that brought the quaint town to a near standstill.

A short time after the sighting, authorities responded to a nearby house for reports of gunshots. Officials later confirmed that Cavalcante entered the unlocked garage of a local home and grabbed a .22 caliber rifle before encountering a homeowner who opened fire on the fugitive but missed him. 

Authorities also found Cavalcante's light-green hoodie and prison-issued shoes near the home he entered. It was reported that he swiped a pair of work boots off the porch of a home during his panicked jaunt through the tight-knit neighborhood. 

Cavalcante captured

Law enforcement's big break came overnight Tuesday as a plane fitted with a thermal imaging camera picked up Cavalcante's heat signal, allowing teams on the ground to secure the area, surround him and move in with search dogs.

"They were able to move in very quietly. They had the element of surprise," Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference. "Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded until that had occurred."

Still armed with the stolen rifle, the fugitive tried to escape by crawling through underbrush. But a search dog subdued him, Bivens said, adding that he continued to resist as he was taken into custody after 8 a.m.

Cavalcante, 34, was bitten on the scalp and suffered a minor wound, Bivens said. A dog also latched onto his thigh, Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Clark told The Associated Press, "at which time, Cavalcante submitted."

Aerial news footage showed an officer wiping Cavalcante’s bloody head and face with a towel.

No shots were fired. About two dozen officers in tactical gear posed for a group photo with Cavalcante, drawing criticism from policing reform advocates and some members of the public who called it inappropriate.

"Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won," Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said.

Cavalcante was taken to a nearby state police barracks in an armored vehicle surrounded by a convoy with lights flashing and sirens blaring as it traveled down the highway. Two police helicopters followed above.

What's next? 

Cavalcante was arraigned at the Avondale barracks on an escape charge, according to the office of Judge Matthew Seavey. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 27. He was led out with his hands and bare feet shackled, wearing what appeared to be a hospital gown. Cavalcante was driven to a state prison outside Philadelphia to continue serving the life sentence he received last month for killing his ex-girlfriend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report