Bedroom sharing and the buddy system. How a Pennsylvania community is coping during a manhunt for an escaped killer

Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS/Zuma

Heavily wooded neighborhoods, curvy roads lined with lush trees, and homes that sit on large plots of land – that’s what authorities in eastern Pennsylvania are competing with as the search for an escaped convicted murderer enters its seventh day.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, escaped from Chester County Prison last Thursday, sending authorities into a multiday search in Pocopson Township and Chester County within 2 miles of the prison – a rural area around 30 miles west of Philadelphia.

The search perimeter expanded a bit this week after a trail camera recorded Cavalcante on Monday at Longwood Gardens, a popular botanical garden nearly 3 miles from the prison, and just south of where police were looking for him.

Longwood Gardens remained closed Wednesday due to ongoing law enforcement activity and for the safety of guests, the gardens said on social media. Orange and white-striped cones lined the entrance, deterring people, outside of emergency vehicles, from the grounds.

The escape has community members looking over their shoulders and thinking twice about how they secure their property – but ultimately wondering how long they’re going to be asked to stay home. With two school districts closed for the second day in a row, children are among those forced to stay inside while they normally would be in class.

“This is a dangerous game of tactical hide and seek,” Robert Clark, supervisory deputy US marshal for Pennsylvania’s eastern district, told CNN’s Laura Coates Tuesday night. “And it takes time.”

Joe Annechino used to leave his garage door open at night, he told CNN affiliate WPVI. Annechino lives in Unionville, just under 5 miles from the botanical garden.

“I just put a couple of new bolts on two doors,” he said. “I keep the car locked. So, yes, unfortunately, I have changed my way of thinking about my exposure to whatever.”

And though residents are taking extra precautions, some say they have to continue living their lives.

Hair salon owner Aimee Young-Wilson told CNN Tuesday it’s business as usual for her and her clients. As cars raced past her business on a busy main artery in Chester County, you’d never know just hours prior Cavalcante was spotted less than a mile away at the botanical gardens on security camera footage.

While Cavalcante’s appearance was unchanged, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said he had obtained some items, including a backpack, a “duffel-sling type pack,” and a hooded sweatshirt.

Cavalcante was convicted of first-degree murder on August 16 in the killing of his former girlfriend, 33-year-old Deborah Brandão, in 2021. Days later, he was sentenced to life without parole.

The inmate escaped from Chester County Prison’s exterior exercise yard, acting Warden Howard Holland said during a news conference Wednesday.

“It’s very crazy,” Young-Wilson said. “I just don’t understand how someone stays on the run for this long.”

Woods that stretch for miles, ravines, and tall grass in the area are likely providing several prime hiding spaces for Cavalcante, who is 5 foot, 120 pounds, Clark said.

Jennifer Briggs and her family live in the Pocopson Township area, about a mile and a half from the prison. She told CNN she’s been keeping her kids inside and having them sleep in her bedroom at night, with the doors locked, as a precaution.

Briggs has a 4-year-old and a kindergartner, who just started school at Pocopson Elementary School last week but they’re attending virtually because of the manhunt.

Police searched her car on Saturday afternoon, noting there’s only one way in and one way out of her neighborhood.

“Anytime you would leave, they were searching your car to make sure he wasn’t in the car,” Briggs said. “I had my kids in the car with me, so that was probably the most unsettling moment.”

Nancy Sanchez is using the buddy system to make sure her employees stay safe as they leave from a shift at the restaurant she manages, GuGu Asian Table, which is just a few businesses away from Young-Wilson’s salon.

“We’re letting our younger workers and women park close to the building and not toward the back of the lot, so the security camera can watch,” she told CNN Tuesday. “We have lighting, so they are not scared. A lot of our servers are high schoolers and girls. We have one of the chefs watch as we leave.”

The restaurant used to keep a back door to their basement open for drivers bringing in produce and fish, but now they’ve been keeping it closed, Sanchez said.

Overall, businesses on the outskirts of the manhunt perimeter, like Downtown Kennett Square – filled with antique shops, quaint food spots, boutiques and a library – seemed to be operating as usual. Closures varied from business to business with a few people wandering into shops.

“Everyone is just worried because he’s here, he’s dangerous and there’s a lot of elderly folks that live around the area,” Young-Wilson said. “But we can’t shut down. We can’t stop living our life.”

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas and Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at