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How US police found killer Danelo Cavalcante using dogs and a heat-sensing plane

How US police found killer Danelo Cavalcante using dogs and a heat-sensing plane

A killer who brazenly escaped from a Pennsylvania jail was captured by police, ending an intensive two-week search for the fugitive who broke into homes for food, changed his appearance and stole a pickup truck and a rifle while on the run.

Wednesday’s capture began when a plane equipped with a thermal imaging camera captured Danelo Souza Cavalcante’s heat signature in a wooded area, allowing police teams on the ground to secure the area, surround him and advance with search dogs.

Cavalcante, 34, escaped from prison on August 31 by walking like a crab between two walls covered with barbed wire and then jumping from the prison roof.

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Convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, in front of her children in 2021, prosecutors say he is also suspected in Brazil of a “qualified double homicide” related to the murder of Valter Junior Moreira dos Reis in 2017. Authorities say The victim was murdered over a vehicle repair debt.

This is how Cavalcante was captured:


  • The first possible sign from Cavalcante that alerted authorities was a burglar alarm shortly after midnight on Tuesday. The police investigated but found nothing.
  • The alarm attracted nearby search teams to the area, including a plane provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that was equipped with thermal imaging technology.
  • Around 1 a.m. local time on Wednesday (05:00 GMT), the thermal imaging camera on the DEA plane captured a heat signal. Searchers on the ground began tracking and surrounding the area where the signal was located.
  • The search teams formed a tight enough circle that “they were within sight of each other on the inside perimeter,” said Robert Clark, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force in Philadelphia.
  • Later that morning, the heat-sensing plane returned along with more search teams.
  • Shortly after 8 a.m. (12:00 GMT), a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol team moved to Cavalcante, in the wooded area, approximately half a mile (0.8 kilometers) away from where the alarm was activated.


  • Cavalcante had been lying face down, trying to avoid detection, when search teams of between 20 and 25 members got close enough for him to realize he was being followed.
  • He began crawling through the thick brush to try to escape, prompting the Customs and Border Patrol team to release a search dog, either a shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, to chase him.
  • The dog subdued him in a struggle, leaving Cavalcante with a bleeding wound on his scalp. First they bit him on the forehead, then the dog squeezed his thigh and held him down.
  • Cavalcante then presented himself to police and was handcuffed.
  • Cavalcante had stolen a rifle but no shots were fired during the final minutes of the chase.

Controversy and criticism

  • A group photo of about two dozen police officers in tactical gear posing with Cavalcante was taken minutes after the capture and has drawn criticism from police reform advocates and some members of the public.
  • The group photo shot was captured by a KYW-TV news helicopter.

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  • Police experts said the moment of celebration was inappropriate and dehumanizing.
  • “From a police ethics standpoint, it’s not okay for a police officer to take a photo on the street and post it on social media or do it in celebration or retaliation,” said Adam Scott Wandt, associate professor of politics. public at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
  • Photos of Cavalcante immediately after being arrested, with the police dog restraining him, circulated widely on social media in the hours after the arrest was announced.
  • The photographs did not include information about who took them, but were taken within the secure perimeter where only law enforcement officers were allowed access.



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