Person of interest in upstate New York prison break: Who is Joyce Mitchell?

Michael Walsh

Authorities questioned a female prison employee in connection with the elaborate escape of two convicted murderers last weekend.

Joyce Mitchell was an industrial training supervisor in the prison tailor shop where both inmates worked at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

On Saturday morning, convicted killers Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, broke out of the maximum-security prison in the village of Dannemora, roughly 20 miles from the Canadian border.

“We have employees from the prison that are being interviewed, and that is a very consistent exercise that we’re going through,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

“The media has reported on one woman in particular who is a subject who’s being interviewed, and that’s correct.”

Investigators suspect that Mitchell agreed to pick them up in a getaway car but backed out at the last minute and checked herself into a hospital for panic attacks, a source told CNN.

Another person familiar with the case told the network that authorities have her cellphone, which was used to call several people close to Matt; still, it was not immediately clear who made the calls.

After several outlets, including ABC News, identified Mitchell as a person of interest, her son, Tobey Mitchell, spoke out in her defense.

"She is not the kind of person that's going to risk her life or other people's lives to let these guys escape from prison," he said to NBC News.

The young man said he had not spoken to his mother since she checked herself into the hospital and the prisoners were reported missing.

Tobey Mitchell said that the truth would ultimately come out and that it isn't unrealistic to think that convicted killers who “don't have anything to lose” might intimidate prison staff with threats to get help in their plots.

"When you are put into a situation where your family member is threatened or other family members might be threatened, or at risk, you do a lot of things that you wouldn't do, to just protect your family,” he said.

At a joint press conference, Cuomo and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said their states are working together because they received information suggesting that the inmates might head to Vermont.

“They are dangerous men. They are killers. They are murderers,” Cuomo said. “There’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t do it again. They’re going to be more desperate than ever.”

New York State Police say they have increased their presence in the area around Dannemora, going door-to-door and conducting roadblocks.

More than 450 members of law enforcement are working on the search effort, authorities said.

New York State is offering a reward of $100,000 for information leading to their apprehension. Anyone with information concerning their whereabouts is asked to call 1-800–GIVE-TIP.

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