World

Pennsylvania Fugitive Has Been Trained for Survival, His Mother Says

Danelo Cavalcante, the Pennsylvania prison escapee, has now been roaming wooded areas and small suburban towns for nearly two weeks, presumably with no shelter and little to eat or drink, as he flees the hundreds of police officers desperately searching for him.

Back home in rural Brazil, his mother, Iracema Cavalcante, sees a son whose life has trained him to live alone and overcome hardships, preparing him for his long flight from the authorities after being convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend.

But Ms. Cavalcante, while saying her son stabbed his ex-girlfriend in Pennsylvania in 2021 and murdered a man in Brazil in 2017, insists her son, even if armed, “did not pose a threat to anyone.” He is just fighting to survive, she said, as he has for much of his life.

“His training was his suffering,” said Ms. Cavalcante, in her first interview since her son escaped from prison last month. “It was going to sleep hungry, it was waking up as I wondered what to feed them.”

Mr. Cavalcante never went to school, she said, and instead began working at the age of 5. He first shined shoes, then sold vegetables in the market and, by the age of 7, was working in the fields on someone else’s farm, she said.

“We’re poor. We’re humble. But we’re workers,” Ms. Cavalcante said in a nearly hourlong interview on Tuesday morning. “What we have, we fought to get.”

The authorities in Pennsylvania said that upbringing had most likely made Mr. Cavalcante far more difficult to catch.

“It’s not surprising to me that he’s able to last out there,” Lt. Col George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police told reporters last week. “The whole goal here is not a contest of: How much can you take out there? It’s: How much can we stress you? How much can we push you that you make a mistake and we capture you?”

Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police, second from right, provided updates on Tuesday on the search for Mr. Cavalcante.Credit…Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

So far, Mr. Cavalcante has not made that mistake. On Monday evening, however, he took a risk, entering an open garage to steal a rifle and then coming under fire from the homeowner he robbed. But he got away again and is now armed, heightening fears that he poses an even greater risk to the public.

Mr. Cavalcante has been on the run since he crab-walked up a wall to escape from Chester County Prison in Pennsylvania on Aug. 31. He had just been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend in Pennsylvania in 2021. The authorities believed that she had discovered evidence that he had murdered someone else in Brazil in 2017.

Ms. Cavalcante did not dispute her son’s guilt in both murders. But she also argued that in both cases he was cornered, suggesting that his ex-girlfriend had threatened to turn him in to the authorities and that the man he shot dead in 2017 had wanted to kill Mr. Cavalcante first.

In the case of his ex-girlfriend, Mr. Cavalcante was convicted of stabbing her nearly 40 times in front of her children.

“Did it happen? It happened,” Ms. Cavalcante said. “But it happened because of the stranglehold she put on him, the stance she took with him.”

She added: “It wasn’t femicide. He had to, he had no other choice.”

Ms. Cavalcante said her son should face consequences for his crimes. But she argued that life in prison — or a death at the hands of the police — was unjust.

“If I said my son didn’t make a mistake, I’d be lying,” she said. “I know what my son did was wrong. I know my son should pay for his mistake. But I want my son to pay for his mistake with dignity. Not to pay with his life.”

The police have been blasting an audio recording from vehicles and helicopters of Ms. Cavalcante, in her native Portuguese, urging her son to turn himself in. Ms. Cavalcante said she never spoke with the police but that they requested the audio through her daughter, who had been living in the United States but is now being deported.

Later in the interview with Mr. Cavalcante’s mother, she said she actually thinks that, faced with life in prison, he may be better off dying now than turning himself in. “If it’s to go to a place to suffer and die in that place, it’s better to die soon,” she said. “You don’t have to suffer so much.”

She said that given his options, she was already losing hope. “Today, I see my son as dead,” she said. “In a strange place, trampled, everyone lying about him, saying he’s something that he’s not.”

She said that if she could send a message to her son now, it would not be a plea to turn himself in, but rather that “he asks God to forgive him for what he did.”

Paulo Motoryn contributed reporting from Brasília.

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