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N.Y. killers suspected of using contractor tools left behind to escape

The two killers who cut their way out of a maximum-security prison apparently used tools routinely stored there by contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work so that no one would notice, a prosecutor said Sunday.

Investigators believe killers replaced tools each night to avoid detection

Law enforcement officers have been scouring the fields, meadows and woods in northern New York state for nine days now in search of two escaped convicts. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The two killers who cut their way out of a maximum-security prison apparently used tools routinely stored there by contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work so that no one would notice, a prosecutor said Sunday.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie told The Associated Press that investigators suspect Richard Matt and David Sweat worked methodically, crawling out of their cells between midnight and 5 a.m. through holes they made in the walls.

"They had access, from what we understand, to other tools left in the facility by contractors under policy and were able to open the toolboxes and use those tools and then put them back so nobody would notice," the prosecutor said.

He also said the men had been scouting out the tunnel system under the prison at night for the best way get out.

The convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole, authorities said.

Wylie says Sunday that prison worker Joyce Mitchell, who is charged with helping the men escape, agreed to pick them up in her car when they got out. He said she told authorities she backed out because she loves her husband and felt guilty.

"Basically, when it was go-time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, 'What am I doing?'' Wylie said. "Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn't greener on the other side."

The prosecutor says authorities have no evidence the men had a Plan B and believe the men are still in somewhere around the prison in Dannemora, N.Y., near the Canadian border. No vehicles have been reported stolen in the area.

Residents on edge

Residents in rural New York, unaccustomed to locking their doors, day or night, were on edge as the manhunt for the two killers stretched into a ninth day.

More than 800 law enforcement officers in the search for Sweat and Matt scoured the fields and Adirondack woods several kilometres around the Clinton Correctional Facility.

We don't know if they are still in the area or if they're in Mexico by now.- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

State police remained stationed overnight into Sunday at intervals in the wooded search area, which came alive with the loud chirps of crickets and frogs. Along Route 3, a two-lane highway south of Dannemora that abuts the Saranac River, a series of lights illuminated both the roadway and fields where earlier hundreds of officers had conducted more grid searches.

With several hundred tips to check out, police said they had no new leads by the end of the day Saturday.

"We don't know if they are still in the area or if they're in Mexico by now," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday in response to a question at a news conference on school aid in the New York City suburbs.

Roads on the western edge of Plattsburgh, N.Y., were open only to local traffic and a state police helicopter was parked in a field where 24 hours earlier a contingent of 40 officers had marched into the adjacent woods on yet another grid search.

The presence of heavily armed officers in the rural landscape has become both reassuring and unsettling to local residents.

When we do go outside now, we're armed.- Jason Hamel, resident of West Chazy, N.Y.

"I just mowed some fields, and I kept looking over my shoulder. It's scary," said Jason Hamel, who lives with his wife and three young daughters in West Chazy five minutes from one of the many roadblocks. "I won't let the kids outside.

"My wife and I love to be outdoors. "We haven't done any of that, and when we do go outside now, we're armed."

The search has had officers scouring every nook and cranny in the area, including sewers. (Gabe Dickens/Associated Press)
The fear also is very real for Sandra Denny, a widow who moved to the area four years ago from New Jersey to be near her son and grandchild.

"It's real frightening not knowing where they are," said Denny, who's been driving around in her station wagon for the past week with several bags of mulch in the back because she's too afraid to unload it and work in her garden. "They could be at my back door."

Earlier, John St. Germain, who lives in the small town of Cadyville, was scanning the skyline and the Saranac River with a pair of binoculars.

"I'm kinda just looking at things along the river," he said. "The river is real high right now. And if I see something, I know what to do."

While many local residents remained locked in their homes at the advice of authorities, there was also an outpouring of appreciation for the intense search effort underway. A restaurant was urging people to tie blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes.

"The locals have been awesome," said Sgt. Barry Cartier of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, part of a crew from a neighbouring county working 12-hour shifts. "They come around with food all the time. We've got too much to eat."

'They'll probably go to any lengths'

Joyce Mitchell, a 51-year-old tailor shop instructor at the prison, was arraigned Friday on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation.

The manhunt for convicted killers David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt has locals on edge. 'It's real frightening not knowing where they are,' said one resident, Sandra Denny. (New York State Police/Getty Images)
Mitchell is accused of befriending the 34-year-old Sweat and 48-year-old Matt and giving them the contraband, according to criminal complaints. She's accused of smuggling in hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to help the men escape. Her lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

A person close to the investigation says Mitchell had agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kevin Farrington, a city engineer in Plattsburgh, stood close watch over his two-year-old son Dylan as the toddler jumped at the chance to go outside for the first time since the prison break. A contingent of about 40 armed officers scanning the field across the highway set the family at ease for the first time all week.

"Obviously, you know the prison is there, but there's never been an incident so you feel secure," said Farrington, who moved to the banks of the Saranac River 13 years ago.

Joyce Mitchell pleaded not guilty to charges related to helping the convicts the escape. She is accused of smuggling tools into the Clinton Correctional Facility. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)
"When something like this happens, you think about a couple of guys who are pretty bad actors capable of anything. You know they're desperate and probably not going to want to be taken alive. They'll probably go to any lengths."

Farrington said he keeps a loaded gun inside his home, just in case.

Sweat was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his 76-year-old former boss.

Mitchell's daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, has said her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn't get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell's son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape.

Tobey, told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.

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