For the last 14 days, Deisy Tapia was wary when going out at night. She asked people to walk her to her car. If no one was around, she’d call a friend for company over the phone. Every door and window in her apartment was locked, especially the ones that face nearby woods, where a murderer may have been lurking.
“It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “I had a lot of anxiety.”
For Tapia, 30, and her family, that fear and apprehension finally ended Wednesday morning with the arrest of Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison and was the target of a massive two-week long manhunt throughout rural areas in the southeastern part of the state.
The community where Tapia lives had been on high alert as Cavalcante, who escaped Aug. 31, was on the prowl, breaking into houses for food and even stealing a rifle from a homeowner who shot at him earlier this week.
Hundreds of law enforcement officials, drones, helicopters and dogs swarmed the neighborhood after the escapee was spotted multiple times in and around Longwood Gardens, a popular tourist destination near Tapia’s apartment in Kennett Township, which borders the Delaware state line.
“I don’t think I slept much,” she said. “The helicopters were … right above my house. That was terrifying.”
Robert Buffum put his U.S. Coast Guard training to use while Cavalcante was on the lamb.
Each morning, the father of five got up at dawn to check the perimeter of his Kennett Township property for footprints. Throughout the day and into the late night, he checked footage from surveillance cameras he installed around his house.
“It’s been a rough two weeks,” he said, especially when his neighborhood was in the search perimeter and being scoured search teams.
“I tried really hard to be vigilant and calm at the same time,” he said. “It was exhausting.”
Four of his five children were out of school for two days last week when the district canceled classes. When Cavalcante was spotted about 20 miles north over the weekend, and the perimeter moved away, Buffum, 48, was still anxious.
“I thought he might come back down here,” he said.
‘We can get back to normal’: Relief after search team tracks down fugitive
The weeks of unease and worry for area residents lifted when authorities tracked Cavalcante down in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, using thermal scanning technology and a plane that picked up his heat signal overnight.
Jim Martin, a 52-year-old store manager of Little’s John Deere, saw the arrest happen near the store, which police closed on Tuesday because it was within the search perimeter.
Law enforcement closed in on Cavalcante at about 8 a.m. Wednesday in a surprise ambush, and released a search dog to subdue him when he tried to run away, crawling through thick underbrush with the stolen rifle.
He was bitten by the dog, and aerial footage showed him with a bloody face after being taken into custody, wearing long pants and a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt.
“Everyone is relieved we can get back to normal,” Martin told USA TODAY.
Onlookers got out of their cars along overpasses to wave and watch a column of law enforcement vehicles pass as Cavalcante was taken to state police barracks in Avondale.
Cavalcante broke out of Chester County Prison nearly two weeks ago, days after being handed a life sentence without parole for stabbing his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandao, to death in front of her two young children in 2021. He’s also wanted for a murder in Brazil, his home country. He crab-walked up a wall, pushed through razor wire, and ran across a roof to break free.
Authorities told USA TODAY he entered the United States illegally.
Search shuttered schools, impacted businesses
The search prompted school districts to close right at the beginning of a new academic year. Residents were warned to keep their homes and cars locked up tight and to be on high alert. Roads were closed and a search perimeter was formed, shifting with new possible sightings of the escapee by security cameras and eye witnesses.
Tapia had to drive her 9-year-old daughter to and from the private school she attends since her local school district, which provides bus transport, shut down. Her daughter cried when she tried to explain what was going on.
“She was scared,” Tapia said. “I tried to keep my cool as best as I could for her, because obviously I didn’t want to worry her, and I didn’t want her being afraid all the time.”
Tapia has owned Deisy’s Cake Shop in the Kennett Square Historic District for three years. She said she’d rarely seen the shop as empty as it was the first few days after Cavalcante’s escape.
Business started picking up again after officials over the weekend announced Cavalcante had moved about 20 miles north.
She found out Cavalcate was captured Wednesday morning when she heard her customers exclaim, “Oh my gosh, they got him! They got him!”
“At the end of the day, I guess we’re all just very glad that he’s caught and that we can put this all behind us,” Tapia said. “For such a small town that’s always so calm, we’re all very relieved.”
In one restaurant, community came together with hopes of an arrest
In some cases, the manhunt brought people together. Inside Big Phil’s Bar and Grill, about a 10-minute drive from the search perimeter in North Coventry Township, patrons gathered Tuesday night to watch coverage of Cavalcante’s escape and have a few drinks.
Owner Phil Bolinger, 27, opened his bar up after realizing he, his friends and family were invested in the search. The prisoner’s escape made nights sleepless for his mom, and his dad mowed the lawn just in case their home would appear on TV.
Most of the action, Bolinger said, happened at night, which was prime for a restaurant. He faced pushback on a Facebook post about having a watch party, but people showed up and he put livestreams of the search effort on TVs. People watched like they would if the Philadelphia Phillies or Eagles were playing, he said.
“There were a few livestreams of people driving around and everyone in the bar was screaming, ‘Go left!,'” Bolinger said.
The restaurant was back open Wednesday morning, and once people learned they were safe, the conversation kept going.
“This whole morning is, ‘Did you see it?’ It made us feel like a neighborhood bar last night,” Bolinger said
LIVE UPDATES: Danelo Cavalcante caught with technology, police dogs
Relief for residents, and the victim’s family
Like the rest of the community, Brandao’s family breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday. District Attorney Deb Ryan previously told reporters the family was being protected by police, and were “terrified,” while barricaded in their homes during the search.
The victim’s sister, Sarah Brandao, said in a post on social media Wednesday her family is thankful for the law enforcement response and requested privacy while “processing everything that has happened.”
“The past two weeks have been extremely painful and terrifying as it brought back all the feelings from losing my sister and the thought of the perpetrator hurting us again,” Sarah Brandao said.
Ryan said Wednesday: “They can now finally sleep again. Our nightmare is finally over, and the good guys won.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania communities relieved after Danelo Cavalcante caught