6 Inmates Dig Way Out of Florida Prison

<i> From Associated Press</i>

While inmates sang and prayed at a prison chapel during the Christmas holidays, six convicted killers working eight feet below tunneled their way to freedom, digging into the soft soil with spoons and their hands.

The escape Monday night from the state prison was discovered when the six men triggered alarms as they made their way under a razor-wire fence.

Guards fired several shots at the men as they popped up from the ground, and one of the six was captured immediately just outside the prison 70 miles north of Miami. None were believed to have been hit by the gunfire.

Dozens of officers using dogs and helicopters searched for the others, who may have buried themselves in the muck in the surrounding sugar cane fields or submerged themselves in irrigation ditches with pieces of cane for snorkels, said John Townsend, the prison’s assistant superintendent.


The fugitives, all from Cuba, were serving life sentences for first-degree murder.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” Townsend said. “They’ll be looking to steal cars, break into houses for clothes.”

The tunnel ran about 60 feet from under the chapel, which is on stilts, to the prison’s outer fence. It was 2 1/2 feet wide and ran eight feet down under a concrete slab along the fence.

Teachers in classrooms at the Grove Elementary School locked the doors during classes. The classrooms border cane fields. “It’s a scary situation. My children sleep in their rooms, but last night they slept with me,” said Edna Washington, who has a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.

Townsend said the inmate who was caught told authorities only one prisoner dug at a time. The dirt from the tunnel was stacked in a three-foot-high space beneath the chapel. Bricks with vents conceal the space.

The prisoners kept an extra pair of clothes under the church that they would wear while digging.