A female prison employee befriended and may have helped two killers with power tools escape a maximum-security New York facility last weekend, officials said Wednesday.
A large manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, entered its fifth day without a confirmed sighting of the two convicted murderers.
The search spread to neighboring Vermont on Wednesday after officials said they had information that the men discussed hiding there to avoid detection.
"They thought New York was going to be 'hot,' Vermont would be 'cooler' in terms of law enforcement, and a camp in Vermont would be a better place," said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, declining to say the source of that information.
Officials also refused to go into detail about how the prison employee may have helped the men escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said investigators were interviewing other employees and still trying to figure out where Matt and Sweat got the tools to make their daring underground escape through a series of walls, tunnels and pipes.
"We need to find these escapees," Cuomo said. "They are dangerous men, they are killers, they are murderers. There's no reason to believe they wouldn't do it again — they are more desperate than ever."
Matt and Sweat have defied the odds in lasting this long, according to prison-escape data compiled by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Between 2002 and 2012, of the 29 inmates who escaped from New York state prisons, none of the escapees lasted longer than three days before being recaptured.
Almost all escapees are caught within 24 hours.
There's no official data that any of the escapees in those years burrowed out below a prison the way that Matt and Sweat did.
Escapees are also vastly more likely to be in their 20s rather than their 30s or 40s.
Only six escapees were from maximum-security facilities, and only four had been convicted of murders like Matt and Sweat. Many simply walked away from minimum-security facilities or escaped from work details.
Matt and Sweat's escape most closely resembles a 2003 escape from the Elmira Correctional Facility — the last time inmates were credited with escaping from inside a maximum-security prison in New York state.
In that incident, Timothy Vail, 35, and Timothy Morgan, 26, both convicted murderers, stole parts of tools and used them to chip away at the ceiling of their cell, then escaped from the prison's roof using tied-together bedsheets. Like Matt and Sweat, they left dummies in their beds to mislead guards.
Vail and Morgan were captured a day later, a couple miles from the prison. An internal investigation later blamed "complacency" by the Elmira prison's staff in securing tools and doing cell searches.
"There is little doubt that had there been strict adherence to established policy, procedure and practices, the escape would have been thwarted," Glenn S. Goord, then-commissioner of the state's prison system, said in 2004.
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