MALONE, NY — Richard Matt, one of two escaped murderers from an upstate New York maximum-security prison, was shot and killed by officers involved in a massive three-week manhunt, three law enforcement sources said Friday.
Officers are still pursuing fugitive David Sweat but appeared to be closing in on him Friday night, a law enforcement official told CNN.
The violent development in the 21-day manhunt began around 1:30 p.m. when police received a call of shots fired near Route 30 in the vicinity of Malone, New York, according to law enforcement officials briefed on the matter.
About 20 minutes later, more gunshots were heard.
“The timeliness was critical,” Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said of the call. “We may not have been able to get this type of a break.”
About 3:45 p.m., a law enforcement officer saw a man in a wooded area in Malone, the state police said. A man believed to be Matt was shot and killed, but a positive identification is pending, according to state police.
Matt, whose 49th birthday was Thursday, held a shotgun as he approached an officer and was shot by a border patrol tactical team, law enforcement sources said.
Bob Willett, a Malone resident, also called 911 Friday afternoon when he found an opened bottle of grape-flavored gin on the kitchen table at his cabin, his cousin, Mitch Johnson, told CNN.
Willett was speaking with responding authorities in his yard when gunfire erupted behind the house, according to Johnson.
Willett was told to go into the house, where he has been since, Johnson said.
Two sets of footprints were found in the area, the law enforcement officials said. The second set is believed to belong to Sweat.
The search for Sweat unfolded around Elephant Head, northwest of Lake Titus and about 10 miles from Malone, according to Clinton County Sheriff David Favro.
At a command center near the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, law enforcement helicopters were taking off to join the search. Passing motorists honked in approval at news of Matt’s death. As nightfall approached, authorities moved floodlights into the area.
“This is definitely the hardest perimeter that I’ve seen around any area since this manhunt started,” Favro said.
The shooting occurred on a day the New York State Police reported that Matt and Sweat might have been headed to Canada. The area where Matt was killed is about 70 miles from Canada.
Investigators were conducting DNA tests on potential new evidence, a source close to the investigation said.
A reported burglary led police to a cabin on Thursday in Malone, State Police spokesman Beau Duffy told CNN. Malone is about 14 miles northwest of Mountain View, where another cabin was burglarized.
Evidence found in the Malone cabin was being tested, Duffy added. At the time, the fugitives had not been seen, but “we’re certain that the evidence is conclusive,” State Police Maj. Charles Guess said Friday at a news conference.
More than 1,100 law enforcement officers have been pursuing new leads with a “high degree of confidence,” Guess said.
Two prison employees have been charged in connection with the men’s elaborate June 6 breakout, and the accusations against them highlight a series of apparent security lapses.
Investigators from the New York State Inspector General’s Office are looking into possible breaches of security protocols that allowed Matt and Sweat to escape, setting police on a vast and costly manhunt for the past three weeks.
Other agencies are conducting investigations at the prison.
Hundreds search dense woods
As the investigations into shortcomings at Clinton continued, hundreds of law enforcement officers had been searching for Sweat and Matt in a densely wooded area roughly 20 miles west of the prison.
Searchers also had been combing the thick vegetation in the area surrounding the Mountain View cabin the escapees were thought to have burglarized.
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, are both convicted murderers.
Matt was accused of killing a man after a dispute over money, snapping his victim’s neck and then dismembering the body.
Sweat is serving a life sentence for the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in 2002.
Sweat and another man robbed a gun store and fatally shot the deputy after he confronted them.