MALONE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Only hours after New York State Police shifted their focus, pouring thousands of armed men into an area not far from the Canadian border, police fired volleys of shots in Franklin County, ending the search for at least one of two escaped murderers.
An flurry of gunfire Friday in Franklin County ended the search for Richard Matt — one of two escaped murderers from Clinton Correctional Facility. Police killed Matt, a 49-year-old western New York murderer, after he attempted to carjack a camper in an area campsite at 1:51 p.m.
Police say a driver towing the camper heard a loud noise and pulled over to see if he suffered a flat tired and noticed bullet holes in the back of his camper. The man then drove about eight miles to safety and notified police of what happened. When police responded to the scene of the attempted carjacking, they deployed teams from several agencies.
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Officers searching the area of the shooting said they picked up additional evidence of a person with a gun and called for more assistance. Members of a Border Patrol Tactical Response Unit then flew in via helicopter and soon after confronted Matt, who wielded a 20-gauge shotgun, in the wooded area.
New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said the response team instructed Matt to surrender around 4:00 p.m., and when he didn’t, he lost his life to a Custom and Border Patrol agent.
“They verbally challenged him, told him to put up his hands, and at that time he was shot when he did not comply,” D’Amico said.
Customs and Border Patrol officers were among more than 1,100 uniformed officers in Franklin County during the search. Clinton County Sheriff David Favro, who remained briefed on the situation, said more officers flooded in after the shooting than had ever been involved previously.
Governor Andrew Cuomo stood with D’Amico and others at a press briefing just after 8:30 p.m. Friday to explain the events behind Matt’s death and how the search for Sweat would progress, but they took a moment to remark on the loss of life.
D’Amico said he wishes officers could have detained Matt without incident, and said Sweat has the opportunity to turn himself in and surrender. Cuomo offered his perspective, saying he’s happy a law enforcement officer or civilian didn’t befall injury.
“You never want to see anyone lose their life,” Cuomo said. “But I would remind people that Mr. Matt was an escaped murderer from a state prison. Mr. Matt killed two people who we know about. Mr. Matt killed his boss in a dispute and dismembered him. He fled to Mexico and then he killed another person in Mexico and was imprisoned.”
In addition to Matt’s long rap sheet, Cuomo said Sweat isn’t an innocent man. Cuomo said each man served time in a maximum security prison for a reason.
“Mr Sweat was involved in the killing of a Sheriff’s Deputy,” Cuomo said. “Mr. Sweat and his accomplices hit the Sheriff’s Deputy with a car, got out and shot him 22 times and ran over him.”
Watch Governor Cuomo’s full statement here:
With Matt’s death, attention shifted in full focus to hunting David Sweat. Police didn’t stop pursuing him following their confrontation with Matt in the afternoon. Lines of armed officers surrounded the area while police say they searched in a grid pattern. Officials made a point to say they haven’t sighted Sweat and don’t have evidence to suggest he is or isn’t in Franklin County.
“The last positive sighting of Sweat was the time of his escape,” D’Amico said.
New York State Police and their partners recovered evidence suggesting Matt and Sweat stayed together throughout much of the escape, but aren’t positive of Sweat’s current whereabouts.
“We are going to continue the same tactics we’ve used over the last three weeks, which is to search 24 hours a day until we find him,” D’Amico said.
Police said Friday they found additional evidence which put them closer to finding the two escaped murderers. The new evidence placed the two men just north of Malone, a town which is 30 miles northwest of Dannemora, where they escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Malone is just 11 miles from the Canadian border.
The reports, which proved accurate for at least Richard Matt, suggested the two men came closer to the Canadian border than they had before. That prompted New York State Police to ready their national and international partners in INTERPOL and Canadian police.
The strongest bits of evidence, which police developed over the 21-day manhunt, followed the discovery of broken into cabins in Franklin County. Police on Friday said they discovered new, stronger evidence to force them to shift their focus north.
Although officials said they wouldn’t elaborate on the new findings, they voiced confidence in the strength of the evidence.
As police search for Sweat, they say they’re prepared for all situations, including a shootout or a break for Canada.
“We’ve always gone under the assumption that these men are armed,” D’Amico said. “From day one we’ve assumed they’re armed. We did believe a 20-gauge shotgun was taken.”
Cuomo said despite spending more than $1 million per day on a statewide manhunt, he believes the effort is worth it. Cuomo took time to compliment all uniformed officers who took time to hunt for men who threatened security in the area.
“These are dangerous, dangerous men, and that’s why you see law enforcement from across the country,” Cuomo said. “I want to thank our partners in law enforcement who have done an extraordinary job. Our local partners, our federal partners, who have been away from their homes and their families to come here and help us.”
D’Amico took that thanks and turned it back on the public.
“We do understand it is very intrusive to have the level of law enforcement that we have maintained over the last three weeks,” D’Amico said. “Thank you for your patience, for your support and for looking after our officers.”
Anybody with information on Sweat’s location is asked to call 911 immediately.