Southeast Pennsylvania has endured an excruciating few weeks, twice being put in the national spotlight due to escapes from facilities intended to protect communities from offenders.
First there was the escape of convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante from Chester County Prison and the subsequent two-week manhunt that ultimately led to his capture.
Just days later, nine juvenile offenders escaped from the Abraxas Academy in New Morgan, Berks County, located very close to the Chester County line and the same areas where much of the later Cavalcante search took place. The escapees were captured within a matter of hours.
Though one of these manhunts took just hours to resolve and the other took weeks, they are both examples of the great work law enforcement personnel do under extremely trying circumstances.
There are also troubling aspects to both cases.
Cavalcante’s case exposed a number of problems, starting with the period leading up to the murder he committed.
Local law enforcement and the justice system failed to protect his victim, Deborah Brandao, from harm. Even though she had filed a criminal complaint against Cavalcante for assault and asked for a protection from abuse order in 2020, he remained free and ultimately took her life, stabbing Brandao 38 times in front of her children in April 2021.
And of course Cavalcante’s escape forced some serious soul searching at the prison he fled, as a combination of weak points in the jail infrastructure and an inattentive guard enabled him to get away on Aug. 31.
The issues with the justice system demand close attention on the local and state level. And we’re pleased to see that prison officials already are taking steps to make that facility more secure. Other prisons should be paying close attention, especially since it’s likely Cavalcante’s exploits may inspire others to emulate him.
It’s quite possible that the nine juveniles who escaped Abraxas may have had Cavalcante’s flight in mind when they wrested keys away from a guard and fled into the night Sept. 17.
That case raises larger issues about our juvenile justice system and whether the facilities we entrust to work with young offenders are up to the task of protecting the community. Many of these institutions, including Abraxas, are privately run. Public officials must make sure there is accountability.
Meanwhile, we cannot emphasize enough what a heroic job our law enforcement community did in these last few weeks. It’s been incredibly frustrating to see so many Monday morning quarterbacks on social media criticizing and often mocking the people whose lives were put on hold for two weeks while trying to track down an elusive suspect in challenging conditions.
Cavalcante was a desperate man with survival skills honed in previous escapes from the law. And he was hiding in vast, densely wooded areas. Even with a large, strong team of searchers equipped with powerful technology, it was not as easy task.
But they did ultimately succeed. It was a moment well worth celebrating when Cavalcante was captured by a tactical team in South Coventry Township. The manhunt and capture were accomplished without anyone getting seriously hurt. That’s no small achievement given the scale of this operation.
That feeling of relief didn’t last long. Just a few days later law enforcement in the very same area had to go out and search for escaped offenders again, spending yet another cold night combing rural woods looking for dangerous individuals.
The quick resolution of the Abraxas escape offered a reminder of just how unusual Cavalcante was. Four of the escapees knocked on the door of a home and turned themselves in, saying that they were cold and tired. The others were found nearby in short order. These were teenagers, not grown men, but what happened to them just shows why such escapes rarely last for long.
So once again we breathe a sigh of relief along with residents and businesses all over the area. We’re thankful for the men and women who protect us, often amid very difficult circumstances.
Source: Berkshire mont