New York law enforcement authorities on Saturday said that two inmates convicted of murder had escaped from the state’s largest prison overnight by tunneling their way out, setting off an extensive manhunt and prompting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to travel to the facility.
The New York State Police said in an alert posted on Facebook early on Saturday that the inmates, Richard Matt and David Sweat, had escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, an all-male maximum security prison about 275km north of Albany near the Canadian border. Within hours, the governor said on Twitter that he had canceled a scheduled visit to the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, New York, to make his way to the prison to meet with the police and prison officials.
By afternoon, Cuomo was in Dannemora being briefed on the circumstances surrounding the escape, including the path the inmates were thought to have followed.
At a news conference after the briefing, officials described an elaborate escape plan that involved the men using power tools to drill through steel walls and pipes. Cuomo said the inmates had used decoys made from sweatshirts to make it look like they were asleep in their beds, deceiving corrections officers who check on them every two hours.
“When you look at how the operation was done, it was extraordinary,” Cuomo said.
The state police alert said that Matt, 48, and Sweat, 34, were discovered missing during a 5:30am bed check. Officials said both men were “a danger to the public,” and advised anyone who sees the pair not to approach them and to contact the police.
Officials did not say whether they believed the men were armed or if they had been assisted in their escape.
The discovery prompted an immediate lockdown of the prison, New York State Police Captain Robert LaFountain said, according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. And, in what sounded like a scene from an old movie, LaFountain said, investigators later discovered an “external breach,” extending to Bouck Street, one block from the facility.
More than 200 law enforcement agents were involved in the search, along with helicopters and canine units.
The police described Matt as 1.83m tall and weighing 95kg. He has black hair and hazel eyes, officials said. He has a tattoo on his back that says “Mexico Forever,” hearts tattooed on his chest and left shoulder and a US Marine Corps insignia tattooed on his right, according to the police.
Sweat is 1.80m tall and weighs 75kg, the police said. He has brown hair and green eyes, and tattoos on his left biceps and his right fingers, according to the police.
Sweat was serving a sentence of life without parole after being convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of a Broome County sheriff’s deputy in 2002, the police said. Prosecutors said he shot Deputy Kevin Tarsia 22 times, then stole several items from the deputy’s patrol car, including his .40 caliber Glock pistol.
Matt is serving a sentence of 25 years to life following his conviction in Niagara County on robbery, kidnapping and murder charges. The police said the victim was William Rickerson, a 76-year-old businessman from North Tonawanda who was beaten to death and dismembered.
Matt fled to Mexico, where he was sentenced to 20 years for fatally stabbing another American during an attempted robbery outside a bar. He was extradited to the US in 2007 to face trial for Rickerson’s murder.
According to the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Matt was such a troublesome inmate that he was kept under heavy security and separate from other inmates during his 2008 trial. In case he became unruly, a state trooper who was part of the police detail watching him kept a small device capable of delivering a “disabling” shock.
Sweat had been at the prison since 2003. Matt arrived in 2008, the police said.
The prison houses about 3,000 inmates, according to the village of Dannemora’s Web site.
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