Cops and canines painstakingly searched early Monday for any sign of two escaped murderers whose brazen prison breakout triggered an around-the-clock manhunt and unusual reward offer.
As the hunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat entered a third day, questions swirled over how the duo managed their daring Hollywood-style escape. Officials pledged they would not rest until the two were back behind bars.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who has called the escape a “crisis situation” for his state — said the killers “definitely had help” breaking out.
“We’re looking at everything, primarily from the inside,” he told NBC’s TODAY. “They definitely had help, otherwise, they couldn’t have done this on their own, even from the equipment point of view.”
Cuomo announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the inmates’ recapture, saying Sunday it was “an unusual step for the state but given the severity … appropriate.”
Officers with bloodhounds combed through the local woods and searched house-to-house in the rural area of the Adirondacks where the two killers broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility. Authorities set up roadblocks and worked feverishly to chase down the dozens of leads reported since the prison break.
U.S. Marshals, FBI agents, Forest Rangers and State Police were aiding the manhunt, conducting grid searches of the area to ensure all ground was covered. Aircraft from state and federal agencies also were involved, backing up the more than 250 officers searching on the ground.
More than 150 leads had emerged and “each” was being investigated, according to New York State Police.
“Additional investigative services are being applied statewide and nationally,” New York State Police said. “All available assets are involved in this effort.”
The escape was the first ever from the maximum-security portion of Clinton Correctional Facility — but not the first time Matt had broken out of jail. The 49-year-old escaped county jail back in 1986 by scaling a fence topped with razor wire, according to Buffalo News.
Saturday’s prison break played out like a real life “Shawshank Redemption”: Matt and Sweat put makeshift dummies in their beds to dupe guards and used power tools to carry out their elaborate and sophisticated plan. They cut through steel walls, shimmied down a tunnel, cut through brick wall and pipes before breaking through a manhole around a block from the prison.
A taunting note was left behind on one of the carved pipes bearing a message: “Have a nice day!”
Officials at the Dannemora, New York, prison realized the inmates were missing during a 5:30 a.m. bed check on Saturday. Questions remain over where the inmates got the power tools and how they managed to drill through the pipes without raising suspicion. Investigators said the inmates could have gotten help from both inside and outside the prison.
“It was a sophisticated plan,” Cuomo said. “It required a period of time, no doubt, to execute.”
Even as the manhunt intensified, questions remained over whether the men had split up after their escape, where they had gone or even if they had access to a car. Officials said the two could have traveled beyond New York’s borders — possibly even into Canada, which lies less than 25 miles from the prison.
Cuomo said local authorities were coordinating with Canadian officials, and New York State Police Maj. Charles Guess said Mexican authorities also had been alerted.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned. They could be literally anywhere,” he said.
Sweat was convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy in 2002. Matt kidnapped, beat to death then dismembered his former boss 1997 in upstate New York.
He fled to Mexico after the murder — where he was arrested and served jail time for fatally stabbing an American outside of a bar. Matt was returned to the U.S. and later convicted of his ex-boss’ killing, receiving a sentence of 25-to-life.
The town of Dannemora was under heavy security Monday and residents in the neighborhood surrounding the prison told NBC News that they were on edge.
Paula Ashley, who lives two blocks from the manhole that the prisoners emerged from, told NBC News that she couldn’t believe the situation that was unfolding in Dannemora, a town of less than 5,000 people.
“Is this a drill or is this for real?” she asked. “This is very scary. This is my backyard. This is where my son plays outside.”
Elizabeth Ahern, who lives just five miles from the prison in Saranac, said she locked her doors for the first time in 30 years.