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Manhunt for escaped New York prisoners expands to Vermont

The manhunt for two escaped killers expanded to campsites and boat slips in Vermont on Wednesday, and state police said a female prison staff member being questioned may have had a role in helping the men.

Police questioning prison tailor shop worker who befriended escaped inmates

Law enforcement officials searched for the two escaped convicts near the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. The convicted killers escaped on the weekend. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The manhunt for two escaped killers expanded to campsites and boat slips in Vermont on Wednesday, and state police said a female prison staff member being questioned may have had a role in helping the men.

At a news conference outside the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said investigators learned that the inmates had talked before last weekend's breakout about going to neighbouring Vermont.

"New York was going to be hot. Vermont would be cooler, in terms of law enforcement," Shumlin said on day five of the search. He and other officials would not say how authorities obtained that information.

Vermont authorities are patrolling Lake Champlain and areas alongside, Shumlin said. Cuomo urged the people of Vermont to be on the alert and report anything suspicious, warning: "Trust me, these men are nothing to be trifled with."

Prison worker may have helped inmates

New York state police Supt. Joseph D'Amico also said that a prison employee — identified in news reports as Joyce Mitchell, a training supervisor at the prison tailor shop — had befriended the killers and "may have had some role in assisting them."

He would not elaborate.

The pair reportedly cut holes in walls at the back of their cells, escaped onto a catwalk and eventually gained access to a pipe. (New York Governor's Office)

Mitchell's son, Tobey Mitchell, 21, told NBC that his mother checked herself into a hospital with chest pains Saturday. He said she wouldn't have helped the inmates escape.

There have been no charges or disciplinary action lodged against Mitchell or any of the other civilian employees, guards or contractors who have been questioned about the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Both were serving life sentences for murder. They used power tools to cut their way out of the prison and escaped late Friday or early Saturday.

Search enters 5th day

New York State Police and corrections officers in helmets and body armour returned to search near the maximum-security prison Wednesday where the inmates escaped, as authorities renewed their plea for help from the public.

But at the late-afternoon news conference, D'Amico confessed: "I have no information on where they are or what they're doing, to be honest with you."
 
State troopers said the fifth day of searching would include going house to house in Dannemora, where Sweat and Matt broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility, a 170-year-old fortress-like structure about 32 kilometres from the Canadian border.
 
Troopers said that the house searches were not the result of any new leads and that law enforcement was just retracing steps made soon after the escape, discovered early Saturday.
 
"They'll be doing a 100 per cent sweep from the prison right out, see how that goes," Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said.
 
The searches come a day after hundreds of officers poured into Willsboro, N.Y., a community 48 kilometres away, in a fruitless effort to find the men.

Two convicted killers escaped from the maximum-security facility in Dannemora, N.Y. (CBC)

The killers' mugshots have been put on more than 50 digital billboards in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, according to state police. Law enforcement officials asked the public to report anything out of the ordinary.

"We don't want them out searching the woods," Sheriff David Favro said. "But if you're sitting on your porch, get your binoculars out and see if you see something unusual."

In Dannemora, Barbara McCasland said officers asked to search her home but she told them no. "I'm pretty battened down here. My windows are locked and everything," she said.

As the manhunt dragged on, she said she was getting worried: "I wasn't in the beginning, but seeing that they've been out there so long, I am a little nervous."

Many in the prison town greeted the return of the searchers with a shrug. Many suspect Sweat and Matt are long gone and they are past any danger.

"I'm not worried about it," Jackie Trombley said. Referring to the searchers swarming the area, she said: "We've got these guys down the road. They're everywhere, so it really doesn't bother me."

Suspicions that inmates had inside help

The breakout over the weekend from the 3,000-inmate prison immediately raised suspicions that the inmates had inside help in cutting through a steel wall, breaking through the bricks and crawling through a steam pipe. They eventually emerged through a manhole outside the prison grounds.

Convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped from a New York state maximum security prison using power tools and going through a manhole. (New York State Police/Getty Images)

Sweat, 34, and Matt, 48, had stuffed their beds with clothes to fool guards making their rounds and left behind a taunting sticky note that read: "Have a nice day."

The noise they made must have been heard, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

But Cuomo said other inmates claimed they didn't see or hear anything. "They're all heavy sleepers," he said sardonically. And state Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, chairman of the correction committee, said any inmate who heard drilling wouldn't dare report it.

"That will get you killed — that's the kind of environment it is," he said.

$100K reward offered 

In looking for those who may have aided the escape, Cuomo said investigators were focusing first on civilian employees and contractors who have been doing extensive renovations at the 170-year-old prison — not on guards.

"I'd be shocked if a correction guard was involved in this, but they definitely had help," the governor said.

Corrections officials said an inventory of the prison's tools has so far shown none missing. But contractors typically come in with truckloads of equipment, said Peter Light, a retired guard who now runs a museum inside the prison.

A $100,000 US reward was posted over the weekend for information leading to the men's capture.

Sweat was convicted in the 2002 killing of a sheriff's deputy and was doing life without parole. Matt was serving 25 years to life for kidnapping and dismembering his boss in 1997.

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