By Ada Nestor
On August 31st, at approximately 9am convicted murderer Danilo De Sousa escaped the Chester County Prison. The escape went unnoticed for at least an hour by prison officials and once realized, more hours passed before alerts went out to the surrounding community.
Throughout the first week of this search, the Chester County DA, Chester County Sheriff's, and other County Officials were coordinating the response. The search area and perimeter remained within miles of the prison facility he escaped.
As we entered the weekend of September 9th, the entire Southern Chester County area remained on high alert with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) leadership emphatically expressing confidence that they had him pinned down on the Longwood Property or surrounding area, while local police departments were on call to come in and assist on Monday if Danilo wasn't apprehended.
Unfortunately, in the evening hours of Saturday September 9th, a Bailey's Dairy employee left a work van unlocked with the keys in the vehicle and Danilo was able to escape the perimeter after stealing that van. Bailey's Dairy issued a statement on their Facebook page, indicating that while they were working in the facility, the van was stolen between the hours of 7pm-10pm.
He had somehow walked around 3 miles from the Longwood area perimeter, luckily found a van that happened to be unlocked, with the keys inside.
While the PSP were yet unaware of the stolen vehicle, they received a tip from a man who claimed to know both Danilo and his sister, now facing deportation, and said he had images of the escapee from his Ring Camera. The PSP dismissed the call, but still decided to run the photos through facial recognition, which finally confirmed that the man shown in the images was indeed the escaped convict.
He had traveled at least 30 minutes northeast from the perimeter and had changed his appearance by shaving his face and wearing a sweatshirt before the PSP knew he was gone.
The alert did not go out to the new area he had been seen in, unfortunately, until 6am, hours after he had been seen on the doorbell camera.
After the stolen van was recovered in Nantmeal Township on Sunday the police began patrolling that area. Things were quiet for the most part as the PSP continued to respond to tips and work with their partners in the search. There were a couple of possible sightings in the area throughout the day Sunday, but nothing concrete.
On Monday, September 11th, things took a very serious turn. The day began with more property searches, including a possible sighting in a local barn. That sighting turned out to be false, and as they continued searching into the evening, they found tracks that the Lt. Colonel believed to belong to the prison shoes the escapee was wearing. One (or both shoes) were recovered in the woods, along with his green sweatshirt.
At 10:25pm September 11, 2023 a call came over the scanner announcing that Danilo had gained access to a .22LR rifle, with a scope and is now armed. The evening and overnight hours were spent searching the woods for the escapee to no avail. He had somehow managed to elude them once more.
For the first 12 days he had been likely unarmed, maybe only possessing a knife that he had stolen from a residence, but now the community's worst fears were realized. A reverse 911 call was issued locally, but it only indicated that there was an ongoing search, and to remain indoors and lock yourself in.
Unfortunately, the local area was not notified of the change in threat level, with him now acquiring a firearm, until 1:47am on the 12th.
Throughout Day 13 of the search, police remained focused on the area around French Creek State Park. It was not until the early morning hours, at 1:10am that the scanner came to life with a possible heat signature in the wooded area along Prizer Road.
As they worked for the rest of the early morning hours tracking the signature, with air assets supporting the men and women on the ground, the call came that everyone was waiting to hear across the radio. At 8:16am on September 13th, police in the area reported that the escaped convict, who had kept police on their toes for two weeks, was captured.
The police worked tirelessly, day and night to bring this to an end, safely. The men and women who were on the ground deserve our greatest thanks and gratitude. And I know I speak for many in our community who know that without their diligence, this situation could have become much worse, and for that, I say a sincere "Thank You."
In the near future, we will need to do a very deep postmortem on how this was allowed to happen, which policies permitted this situation to arise, and make decisions to ensure our community is safe in the future.
One of the most pressing questions for many in our community is regarding the delay to turn operational control of the search over to the PA State Police. It seemed clear that our local officials would not be capable of bringing this dangerous escapee back into custody and yet the DA and others waited 5 days to bring in more support.
Questions will need to be asked about how departments have been run, how staffing decisions have been made, which programs have been cut or greatly reduced as we move towards the Chester County Prison Board meeting being held on September 20th at the Chester County Prison at 2:30pm. I hope many will be in attendance at that meeting, as well as at tomorrow's Commissioners' meeting at 10am.
Chester County, PA has been recognized over many years for being a beautiful, safe community. One with low crime, great schools and beautiful wildlife, open land mixed with suburban living. This incident has put Chester County on the map, but not in a good way. Our County Officials should be ashamed of the embarrassment we have become.