MALONE, N.Y. — Convicted murderer David Sweat is still on the lam. And Saturday, hundreds of officers continued searching the dense woods in upstate New York for the now lone escaped inmate.
His prison break partner Richard Matt, also a convicted murderer, was shot dead Friday, one day after his 49th birthday. He was armed.
Since Sweat and Matt broke out of the maximum security prison in Dannemora together — and appeared to stick together on their flight from the law — authorities were hopeful they could be right on Sweat’s heels after encountering Matt.
Searchers had at times followed two sets of footprints, but when they gunned Matt down, there was no sign of Sweat nearby.
So, on all-terrain vehicles and in helicopters, they continued looking for the man who has eluded them for three weeks, using infrared vision devices to peer through the night.
If not for some gunfire, and the urge to cough, Matt, too, may have continued to elude the 1,100 officers from multiple law enforcement agencies, who, for three weeks, have combed brush, field and forest in the dark green shadows of the rolling Adirondack Mountains.
He may have again stayed out of eyeshot of searchers who locked down schools and homes in surrounding quiet rural towns, while they pursued over 2,000 tips on the fugitives’ possible whereabouts.
But then on Friday, owners of a recreational vehicle driving down Route 30 heard a bang that eventually led officers to Matt. At the time, they were near Malone just south of the Canadian border. “They thought maybe they had a flat. They got out; they realized they didn’t have a flat,” said New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico.
So, they drove on, until they reached their campsite, where they got out to take a closer look.
“They examined the trailer that they were towing and realized that there was a bullet hole through the back of the camper,” D’Amico said.
They called police, who received additional reports of subsequent gunfire.
The officers who responded to the camper drivers figured that the gunshot they heard probably happened about eight miles back up the road. When they searched there, they came upon a cabin.
As they stepped inside, the smell of gun smoke hung in air. And it looked to them like someone had just been in the cabin, but fled out the back door, D’Amico said. They pursued.
Outside, something moved. And they heard something that sounded like coughing. It wasn’t an animal noise; it was human, D’Amico said. It didn’t take long for a customs and border protection tactical team to come face-to-face with Matt.
“They told him to put up his hands,” D’Amico said.
Authorities have warned from the start that the pair of fugitives might get their hands on guns. Matt did. And it may have been his undoing at that moment. Matt didn’t shoot, but he also didn’t comply with officers’ order, so they opened fire.
“We recovered a 20-gauge shotgun from Matt’s body at the location,” said D’Amico.
Brother relieved he’s dead
“You never want to see anyone lose their life,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “But I would remind people that Mr. Matt was an escaped murderer from a state prison. Mr. Matt killed two people who we know about. Mr. Matt killed his boss in a dispute and dismembered him. He fled to Mexico and then he killed another person in Mexico and was imprisoned in Mexico.”
Matt’s half-brother was relieved to hear he was dead.
“Right now I still can’t think of him as the Rick that I knew. I can only think of him as the man who threatened to kill me and has killed other people and has escaped,” Wayne Schimpf told CNN affiliate WKBW.
With Matt gone, searchers turned their attention to finding Sweat.
They set up a perimeter and led dogs in after him. D’Amico warned residents to be on the lookout. “Sweat is still out there. He is considered dangerous,” he said.
He advised anyone spotting the convict not to approach him but to dial 911 instead.
Sweat was imprisoned at the Clinton Correctional Facility for shooting dead an officer who pursued him after a robbery he committed.
Behind bars, Sweat and Matt cozied up to a prison tailor and a guard who allegedly brought them tools, which they used to cut their way through a labyrinth of multiple barriers and underground passageways. They emerged to freedom through a manhole in the middle of a street.
Guards discovered them missing on June 6, during a routine bed check at 5:30 a.m.
CNN’s Alexandra Field reported from Malone and Deborah Feyerick from New York. CNN’s Ben Brumfield in Atlanta wrote this report. CNN’s Lorenzo Ferrigno, Shimon Prokupecz, Pamela Brown, Jennifer Moore, Polo Sandoval, Jean Casarez and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.