DANNEMORA, N.Y. » State police moved their manhunt for two convicted murderers to an area west of the New York prison from which they boldly escaped more than two weeks ago, as officers began probing the latest sighting.
Investigators and military trucks converged on Mountain View, a hamlet in Franklin County, late Sunday. Just hours before hundreds had searched two towns more than 350 miles away, following an unconfirmed but credible report of another sighting.
Acting Franklin County District Attorney Glenn MacNeill told WPTZ-TV Sunday that a person had been seen fleeing from a hunting camp in the area. Much of the county is within the Adirondack Park.
Inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt broke out of maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6 and up to 800 law enforcement officers have gone door to door checking houses, wooded areas, campgrounds and summer homes.
Vermont State Police joined the search Sunday but it wasn’t immediately known where they were sent.
Officials vowed to search “under every rock” and “behind every tree” on Sunday as law enforcement officers combed through a rural, mountainous area near the Pennsylvania border dotted with sheds, trailers, summer homes and other potential hideouts.
About 300 officers searched the towns of Amity and Friendship, where two men who resembled Sweat and Matt were spotted the day before near a railroad line that runs along a county road.
Though state police said the sightings were unconfirmed, the intense hunt was shifted across the state from the prison near the Canadian border.
Officers concentrated in the area along County Route 20 and Interstate 86. They walked railroad tracks, checked car trunks and deployed search dogs as a helicopter flew back and forth overhead. At one point, state police outfitted in camouflage could be seen heading into some woods.
“We will search under every rock, behind every tree and structure until we are confident that that area is secure,” State Police Maj. Michael J. Cerretto said at a news conference.
But the state police later added in a news release that “a primary focus of the search” is still the area around far northern Dannemora, where the two convicted murderers used power tools to escape.
Until Saturday, the search for Matt and Sweat was concentrated in a several-mile radius around the prison in the Adirondacks. After a woman called in Saturday’s possible sighting in Friendship, police interviewed the witness at length and decided she was credible and the tip bore investigating, Cerretto said.
Authorities also said Friday that two men fitting the descriptions of Sweat and Matt had been seen a week ago in Steuben County, east of Allegany County. Two men were seen walking near a rail yard in Erwin on June 13, and then spotted the next day in Lindley, heading toward the Pennsylvania border.
Investigators have conducted interviews in both communities and sent surveillance video to Albany for further analysis. Cerretto on Sunday wouldn’t say whether there had been any further reports of sightings.
Two railroads in the area, the Western New York & Pennsylvania and the Norfolk Southern, referred inquiries Sunday to the state police. Another, the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad, hadn’t been contacted by authorities but had advised its employees to be extra-vigilant in looking for anything out of the ordinary, general manager J.L. Pope said.
State police asked residents who live around Friendship to be on alert, warning that the escapees are “very dangerous” and should not be approached.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Prison worker Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.
Officials said a corrections officer also has been placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men’s escape.