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Search continues for escaped prisoners

State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico , left, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, center, and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, speak at a news conference near the Clinton Correctional Facility Wednesday.

State Police focused their search late last night on an area around Cadyville and West Plattsburgh in Clinton County, as the manhunt for two missing inmates continues.

Multiple news sources, including the Plattsburgh Press Republican, reported that portions of Highway 374 were closed overnight and local residents were urged to stay indoors and keep their lights on outside their homes.
Yesterday, State Police Captain John Tibbets said authorities continue to chase leads in Clinton and Essex Counties and in Vermont. "Any time we get a lead of this kind, where there is a potential sighting, we are going to run it into the ground," he said.

State officials in New York and Vermont said they are confident they will capture Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility overnight Friday.

Police said they have more than 500 leads. They have also expanded the manhunt into Vermont and they questioned a North Country woman about the escape.

What about that potential accomplice?

At some point in the last few days, a lot of people started to pay close attention to what was really just a rumor at first – that a woman who worked at Clinton Correctional Facility helped Matt and Sweat get the tools and maps they needed to drill their way out of prison.

Credit New York State Police
David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt, right, escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora last weekend

Multiple news sources identified the woman as Joyce Mitchell, an industrial training supervisor. So far, state officials have hesitated to name names and said they are questioning many people – inmates, civilian employees, and prison guards.

At a press briefing outside the prison yesterday, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said, “We have spoken to the female that the media has widely reported on. She befriended the inmates and may have had some sort of role in assisting them, but I’m not prepared to go into details on that.”

Police said they have not arrested or charged anyone with a crime. It is still unclear why Mitchell might have helped the two inmates.

Opening a new front of the search in Vermont

D’Amico also announced New York is collaborating with Vermont in the manhunt.

A corrections officer inspects a truck at a roadblock near Dannemora, N.Y. Photo: Zach Hirsch
“We’ve reached out,” he said. “We’ve been hand in hand with the Vermont State Police working to secure the borders. And today we’re just formalizing our arrangement, our agreement. We’ll be able to deploy New York State troopers across the Vermont and New York State line should it be required for searches.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin were also in Dannemora on Wednesday. They stood side by side in front of enlarged mug shots of the two men. Shumlin warned the inmates could be headed for his state to avoid the intense police activity in New York’s North Country. Shumlin said, “We have information that suggests that they thought that New York was going to be ‘hot,’ Vermont would be ‘cooler’ in terms of law enforcement, and that a camp in Vermont might be a better place to be than New York.”

Shumlin said Vermont police are collecting tips, conducting searches, and sharing information with investigators across the state border. He also said police in Vermont are trying to get some people up to speed on the escape. “We’ll be doing that in our state parks. We’ll be doing that in remote camp grounds and areas where we think they may well be headed,” he said.

As day six of the search opens, a hard slog for investigators

Governor Cuomo, on his second trip to Dannemora since the search began on Saturday, said, “It’s been a long few days” for police, corrections officers, and forest rangers. “The only way to pursue this type of investigation is to follow every lead that you have and follow every lead as if this is the one that’s going to break the case. So whether it’s traveling to Willsboro or doing house to house searches in Dannemora or coordinating with Vermont, if that tip turns out to be true, you just follow each and every one with all the energy and all the vim that you can muster,” Cuomo said.

The search has intensified in Willsboro, where there was an unconfirmed sighting, and in Dannemora, outside the prison walls. State Police said they do not have a new lead in Dannemora, but that they are retracing their steps. Squads went door to door yesterday with guns drawn, asking people questions and clearing buildings.

“It was more comforting to have them searching somewhere else than to have them searching literally in our backyards again,” said Jamie Lichtenberger, who lives down the road from the prison. She has five young kids, and she was nervous. “It’s just the not knowing now, is what’s really getting to people,” she said. She said she knows the police have a lot of ground to cover. Like so many others, she wants this manhunt to be over.

Officials reiterated Matt and Sweat are dangerous criminals and they urged the public to remain vigilant, particularly those who may notice suspicious activity at their seasonal camps, and call the police tipline, 800-GIVE-TIP, with any help.

North Country Public Radio provided this report.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.