Search for escaped killers is focused on area surrounding burglarized NY cabin

Posted at 7:43 AM, Jun 22, 2015

UPDATE: The search for escaped killers David Sweat and Richard Matt is focused on an area surrounding a burglarized cabin in Franklin County, New York, the district attorney there told CNN on Monday.

A witness there saw someone run into the woods near the cabin Saturday, and law enforcement officials think it could have been one of the missing inmates, acting District Attorney Glenn MacNeill said.

State troopers pour into rural New York town in hunt for escaped killers

(CNN) — Police officers flooded into the small, sleepy upstate New York town of Owls Head as the mammoth manhunt for two escaped prisoners shifted once again.

The search for Richard Matt and David Sweat has ranged around New York state and beyond since the two convicted murderers busted out of a maximum security facility more than two weeks ago.

For much of the weekend, the manhunt had focused on an area near New York’s border with Pennsylvania, after somebody reported a possible sighting of the two fugitives.

But the search of that area — around the town of Friendship in Allegany County, hundreds of miles southwest of the prison from which the convicts escaped — wrapped up late Sunday, New York State Police said.

At the same time, search efforts were ramping up in Owls Head, a town in Franklin County roughly 20 to 25 miles west of the Clinton Correctional Facility, where Matt and Sweat had been serving time.

‘When it’s in your backyard, it’s kind of crazy’

Amy Pulsifer, the manager of the Trailside Bar and Restaurant, said she was working at the bar when things got “crazy insane” between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. as helicopters flew overhead and state troopers drove into town.

The troopers set up roadblocks just across the street, off county Highway 27, she said.

“I’m kind of excited but nervous at the same time,” Pulsifer told CNN, adding that her boss had told her to close the bar early because of safety concerns.

Amid pouring rain in Owls Head late Sunday, a CNN team saw a command post that had been set up with ATVs. One trooper asked Pulsifer for a map of snowmobile trails in the area, which is near a winter ski resort.

She said she’d followed the news of the manhunt as it unfolded previously in Cadyville, another town in the region.

“Now, when it’s in your backyard, it’s kind of crazy,” she told CNN, saying she planned to go home and lock up with her gun.

Fear in Friendship, New York

Pulsifer’s concerns are familiar to people in Friendship, the rural town near the Pennsylvania border where somebody reported seeing two men along a railroad line on Saturday.

Many residents spent the rest of the weekend holed up in their homes while around 300 law enforcement officers combed the area.

Gary Baker, 80, said he was terrified of the possibility that the killers could be nearby.

Baker is a caretaker at the town’s Maple Grove Cemetery, right next to his home. But authorities blocked off the cemetery as search helicopters hovered overhead.

Baker was left to sit alone in his home, with all his doors locked and a rifle in his lap.

On most wanted list

Owls Head and Friendship aren’t the only towns where police have swarmed in the hunt for Matt and Sweat. The manhunt, now in its 17th day, has primarily been focused in the area around Dannemora, the town where the prison is situated.

Described by authorities as “very dangerous,” the two killers have been added to the U.S. Marshals Service’s list of its 15 most wanted fugitives. Reward money of $75,000 has been offered for information leading to the capture of either man.

As many as 800 law enforcement officers have participated in the manhunt, which has cleared nearly 200 abandoned buildings, hundreds of occupied homes and more than 600 miles of rural trails, officials said.

State police have asked hunters and homeowners with surveillance cameras to check their footage all the way back to the day of the prison break, for any unusual activity.

The search has stretched to Canada and Mexico, with wanted posters of the escaped killers given out at both borders.

Prison tailor in jail

Authorities are still investigating how exactly Matt and Sweat managed to orchestrate their escape, which involved cutting through a steel wall and navigating a series of tunnels until the men emerged from a manhole outside the prison walls.

Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailor shop instructor, is accused of helping them by supplying tools like chisels and drill bits. She is in jail and has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.

A source familiar with the investigation has told CNN that Mitchell, 51, had a sexual relationship with Matt.

Investigators are looking into whether other prison staff members or inmates played a role in the breakout.

Authorities said Friday that a male corrections officer was placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the escape. The officer’s name wasn’t released.

CNN’s Sara Ganim, Linh Tran, Alexandra Field, Carolyn Sung, Holly Yan, Steve Almasy, Shimon Prokupecz, Deborah Feyerick and Poppy Harlow contributed to this report.

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