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Richard Matt shot and killed by police 45 miles from where he and David Sweat escaped

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MALONE, N.Y. — Richard Matt, one of two escaped murderers from an upstate New York prison, has been shot and killed by police Friday as officers involved in a nearly three-week manhunt continue to pursue fugitive David Sweat, law enforcement officials said.

What could be the end of the most high-profile manhunt in recent history is unfolding near Malone, N.Y., a town of about 14,500 that sits 14 miles south of the Canadian border and about 45 miles west of the prison from where the men escaped.

Matt, 49, and Sweat, 35, had been on the run since June 6, when they were discovered to have escaped from Clinton County Correctional Facility, situated about 40 miles south of the Canadian border and nicknamed "Little Siberia."

Earlier Friday, investigators said they believed Matt and Sweat were headed north, possibly out of the country and into Canada as they attempted to elude thousands of law enforcement agents. Fliers portraying the pair have been distributed to border patrol agents at entrances into Mexico and Canada.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a Friday evening news conference said officers were led to Matt after a civilian reported a gun shot at a camping trailer. When police responded, they realized the trailer had been pierced by a bullet, probably about 8 miles back. Investigators retraced the path and came upon a cabin where they smelled gun powder.

It was about 3:45 p.m. when they encountered Matt, who did not fire at officers but refused to comply with their verbal orders and was shot, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 20-gauge shotgun -- similar to the one stolen from a burglarized cabin in the area last weekend -- was found near Matt, D'Amico said.

It's not over yet

As for the second escapee, there has been "no actual sighting of Sweat," D'Amico said, adding that it's not clear whether or not the last living fugitive was with Matt when he was killed.

Agents have been combing the area ever since for the second man. Sun set at 8:47 p.m., having given them some five hours of daylight after Matt was killed to find his partner in crime.

A witness to the throng of siren-blaring squad cars blazing through the small town captured video of the initial response.

"We heard a lot of sirens and went out to watch all of the cop cars driving down 30 when a local Malone officer drove by," said Thom Kelly, "and he said, 'They've got one down.'"

"The worst of the worst"

Both men were in prison for murder. Sweat was convicted in the 2002  death of Broome County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Tarsia, who was shot 22 times by Sweat then run over by him with a car. Matt was serving life in prison for the 1997 murder and dismemberment of his former boss.

They've been called "the worst of the worst" by a U.S. Marshals official. That agency added the pair to their 15 most wanted fugitives list and posted a $50,000 reward for information that leads to their capture.

More than 1,100 law enforcement officers have been combing dense woods in upstate New York searching for the fugitives, who have left clues as to their whereabouts. More than 2,300 leads have been generated by a vigilant public, D'Amico said.

A trail of evidence

They are believed to have burglarized a hunting cabin in the small rural community of Mountain View, N.Y. And a reported burglary led police to a cabin Thursday in Malone, State Police spokesman Beau Duffy told CNN.

D'Amico on Friday night said Matt left behind evidence at both cabins. Among the clues dropped in his wake were candy wrappers, he said.

How did they do it?

Two prison employees have been charged in connection with the men's elaborate breakout, and the accusations against them highlight a series of apparent security lapses.

Investigators from the New York State Inspector General's Office are looking into possible breaches of security protocols that allowed Matt and Sweat to escape, setting police on a vast and costly manhunt for the past three weeks. Other agencies are conducting investigations at the prison.

Joyce Mitchell, a supervisor in the prison's tailor shop, allegedly smuggled frozen meat containing hacksaw blades and drill bits through the main gate at the prison, according to authorities. She is said to have had a sexual relationship with both prisoners.

Gene Palmer, a veteran prison guard, allegedly then took the meat into Matt and Sweat's cell area, bypassing a metal detector, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said.

Palmer was unaware that the meat contained contraband, his former lawyer has said.

The prison guard also loaned Sweat tools to work on electrical breakers in the catwalk behind the convicts' cells, an area that was part of the fugitives' escape route, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

Palmer had been suspended with pay, but state officials changed his status to suspended without pay Thursday, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. He and Mitchell are facing charges in connection with the escape.

Mitchell, 51, has pleaded not guilty to promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. Palmer, 57, is pleading not guilty to charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct.

Both reportedly accepted paintings from Matt.

After the breakout, Palmer tried to get rid of evidence by burning some paintings and burying others in nearby woods, according to authorities.

He described his arrangement with Matt in a statement he gave state police.

"Matt provided me with elaborate paintings and information on the illegal acts that inmates were committing within the facility," the document says. "In turn, I provided him with benefits such as paint, paintbrushes, movement of inmates, hamburger meat, altering of electrical boxes in the catwalk areas."

Asked whether he assisted in the escape, Palmer told investigators: "No. Not intentionally."