MALONE, N.Y. (June 29, 2015) — Three weeks after their stunning prison break, Richard Matt and David Sweat have been caught — with one now dead, the other critically wounded.
The 22-day manhunt for Sweat ended Sunday when the fugitive was spotted just two miles from the Canadian border. He made it closer to Canada than Matt, who was found and killed Friday near Malone, New York.
New York State Police Sgt. Jay Cook spotted Sweat near a barn in the sleepy New York town of Constable. Sweat bolted, and the lone officer gave chase.
“At some point, running across a field, he realized that Sweat was going to make it to a tree line, and possibly could have disappeared, and he fired two shots,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico told reporters.
Sweat, who was unarmed, was struck twice in the torso. No one else was hurt.
A photo exclusively obtained by CNN shows Sweat in custody moments after his capture. He appears bloodied and was wearing a camouflage outfit, not prison garb.
“I can only assume he was going for the border, that he was that close,” D’Amico said.
Sweat was taken to Albany Medical Center, where he was in critical condition Sunday night, medical director Dennis McKenna said.
Emergency, trauma, intensive care, radiology and vascular surgery specialists are involved in his care, McKenna said.
It’s imperative that Sweat stay alive so officials can learn exactly how he and Matt escaped — and who helped them, law enforcement experts said.
“Now that we have Mr. Sweat, it gives us the opportunity to have some more questions and provide more facts on the overall situation,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “Anyone who we find who was culpable and guilty of cooperating in the escape will be fully prosecuted.”
But for now, Cuomo said, “the nightmare is finally over. … We wish it didn’t happen in the first place. But if you have to have it happen, this is how you want it to end.”
Relief all around
Both Sweat’s mother and the family of Sweat’s murder victim were united in relief after the killer’s capture.
Sweat was serving a life sentence for the gruesome death of Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002.
“To lose a loved one is always difficult, but to have someone you loved be ambushed, shot 15 times and then run over with a car simply for stopping to check unusual activity in a town park, just doing his job, is a pain that no one can understand if you have not been through it first hand,” Tarsia’s relatives said in a statement Sunday night.
They thanked the 1,300-plus law enforcement officers who have searched for Sweat and Matt.
“We are eternally grateful for the hard work and long hours that they have put in, and so thankful that no innocent persons were hurt in this hunt.”
Even Sweat’s mother was relieved after her son’s capture.
“I was just hoping that he would turn himself in,” Pamela Sweat told Time Warner Cable News. “We started crying because (he) wasn’t killed.”
And residents of Constable can now walk outside their homes now without the fear of one of the escapees hiding in the terrain.
“We were so nervous, we’ve had our housed locked down,” resident Audra Buchanan said. For weeks, she hasn’t let her 9-year-old daughter go out to play.
But when she heard sirens and saw ambulances fly by her home Sunday, a wave of relief rushed over her.
“Oh my God,” she thought. “Thank God.”
With the manhunt now over, authorities can turn their full attention to how Matt and Sweat got out in the first place — and who may have helped them.
The pair used power tools to carve their way out of the Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6.
Prison tailor Joyce Mitchell, who has been charged with aiding the escapees, has admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat, a law enforcement official said last week.
Matt and Sweat had received special privileges for good behavior, such as having hot plates and refrigerators in their cells.
But even months before the escape, Mitchell used baked goods to win favors for Matt and Sweat, the official said.
Among the apparent favors: asking one guard to pass frozen hamburger meat to Matt, bypassing the prison’s metal detector in a violation of policy, the source said.
Gene Palmer, a guard on the honor block where Matt and Sweat were housed, was unaware of the meat’s contents when he was asked to get it to Matt, Palmer’s attorney Andrew Brockway said.
Brockway said his client was conned by Mitchell. Palmer is now on paid leave.
But there may be more prison employees under scrutiny.
Investigators have been questioning guards about what conversations they had with the escapees about life outside the prison, according to a law enforcement official.
They believe Sweat and Matt had gathered information for almost a year about hunting cabins and the fields around the prison to help them navigate the terrain.
D’Amico told reporters that investigators haven’t yet interviewed Sweat, but that they hope to soon.