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N.Y. rural residents on edge as search for 2 killers continues

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    A law enforcement officer takes off his boots during a break in the search for two prisoners who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility on Saturday in Saranac

DANNEMORA, N.Y. » Residents in rural New York, unaccustomed to locking their doors, day or night, were on edge Saturday as the massive manhunt for two killers stretched over an eighth day and the two men remained undetected after cutting themselves out of a maximum-security prison with power tools.

More than 800 law enforcement officers in the hunt for David Sweat and Richard Matt scoured the fields and Adirondack woods several miles around the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora near the Canadian border.

Their search resumed the morning after a prison worker was charged with smuggling in hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to help the men escape. The woman appeared in handcuffs before a judge in Plattsburgh on Friday night, and her lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

With several hundred tips to check out, police said they had no new leads by the end of the day Saturday. Their heavily armed presence in the rural landscape has become both reassuring and unsettling to local residents.

"I just mowed some fields and I kept looking over my shoulder. It’s scary," said Jason Hamel, who lives with his wife and three young daughters in West Chazy five minutes from one of the many roadblocks set up in the manhunt. "I won’t let the kids outside.

"My wife and I love to be outdoors," he added. "We haven’t done any of that, and when we do go outside now, we’re armed."

The fear also is very real for Sandra Denny, a widow who moved to the area four years ago from New Jersey to be near her son and grandchild.

"It’s real frightening not knowing where they (the escapees) are," said Denny, who’s been driving around in her station wagon for the past week with several bags of mulch in the back because she’s too afraid to unload it and work in her garden. "They could be at my back door."

Shortly before 5 p.m., a contingent of about 30 officers emerged from a wooded area along Route 3 a few miles south of the prison and more officers were lined up on the shoulder waiting to be picked up for a break before returning to search before darkness fell.

Earlier, John St. Germain, who lives in the small town of Cadyville, was scanning the skyline and the Saranac River with a pair of binoculars.

"I’m kinda just looking at things along the river," he said. "The river is real high right now. And if I see something, I know what to do."

Kevin Farrington, a city engineer in Plattsburgh, stood close watch over his 2-year-old son Dylan as the toddler jumped at the chance to go outside for the first time since the prison break. A contingent of about 40 armed officers scanning the field across the highway set the family at ease for the first time all week.

"Obviously, you know the prison is there, but there’s never been an incident so you feel secure," said Farrington, who moved to the banks of the Saranac River 13 years ago.

"When something like this happens, you think about a couple of guys who are pretty bad actors capable of anything," Farrington said. "You know they’re desperate and probably not going to want to be taken alive. They’ll probably go to any lengths."

Farrington said he keeps a loaded gun inside his home, just in case.

The 51-year-old Joyce Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at the prison, was arraigned Friday on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation.

Mitchell was ordered held in jail on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond. She was moved to a jail in another county Saturday morning at the request of the Clinton County sheriff and is due back in court Monday morning.

Mitchell is accused of befriending the 34-year-old Sweat and 48-year-old Matt and giving them the contraband, according to criminal complaints. District Attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn’t include the power tools the men used to cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

A person close to the investigation says Mitchell had agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sweat was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his 76-year-old former boss.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of $57,697, overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. She has been suspended without pay.

"She’s a good, good person," a neighbor, Sharon Currier, said. "She’s not somebody who’s off the wall."

Mitchell’s daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, has said her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn’t get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell’s son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on June 6, the day the breakout was discovered.

Associated Press videojournalist Joseph B. Frederick in Cadyville, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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