The sixth day of searching for convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat reached into Vermont Thursday.
Early Saturday, it was discovered the convicts broke out of the prison in Dannemora, New York, using a complex plan involving power tools, stuffed clothes to trick correctional officers into thinking they were sleeping, an escape route through the bowels of the prison, and the suspected assistance of a prison employee.
Joyce Mitchell, a civilian prison employee who teaches sewing to inmate workers in the tailoring shop, is being questioned in the case, NBC News has reported. Investigators believe she was seduced by one of the convicts into being a getaway driver, but that she got cold feet at the last minute.
Because of the possible absence of a getaway driver, and a lack of sightings or evidence in other states, searchers have focused their attention thus far on an area in upstate New York in and around Dannemora.
Late Wednesday, a bloodhound detected the scent of one or both of the escapees not far from the prison in Dannemora, leading to an intense search outdoors there. More than 500 police personnel are part of the intense search, according to a New York State Police spokeswoman.
Schools were closed in the Saranac Central School District Thursday because of the searching.
Also Thursday, the Vermont State Police marine unit checked out a tip that two unknown men had been spotted on Burton Island in Lake Champlain. The officers determined those individuals were not the killers, State Police commander Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
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New York investigators said Wednesday that, at one time, Matt and Sweat had a plan to flee the prison in Dannemora and cross Lake Champlain into Vermont, where they apparently believed there would be fewer police than in New York.
Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont said the pair had better think twice about that belief, noting a large number of Vermont State Police personnel is ready to respond to any sightings of Matt and Sweat.
"It is really important that Vermonters keep in mind these two guys are dangerous," Shumlin said. "These are bad guys, they will do whatever it takes to try to maintain their freedom, and if that means harming you, that won't bother them much."
Shumlin pointed out there have been no sightings of the killers here, and no evidence they actually followed through on their plan to travel to or through Vermont. Still, he urged a high level of public awareness and vigilance, saying tips from the public have often helped solve major cases.
Also Thursday, wanted posters went up in Vermont State Parks including the Sand Bar State Park in Milton. The posters are aimed at increasing public awareness of the case so close to Vermont, officials said.
"We would be remiss in our duties if we weren't taking appropriate steps to inform Vermonters and increase our presence with the fact this happened so close to our borders," said Keith Flynn, Vermont's public safety commissioner. "We are keeping our foot on the gas here as far as our efforts go, until we get a verified report that these two guys are in custody."
Some residents of the Champlain Valley told necn the urging of top public safety officials has had them looking twice at the area around them, trying to detect from afar if there have been any signs of trespassing at rarely-used buildings, for example.
Shumlin asked that Vermonters report such potentially suspicious occurrences, but reminded people to not approach Matt or Sweat if they were to see them.
"You're a little more alert, watching what's going on around you," said Edith Steinhorst, who lives in Northern Vermont, near Lake Champlain.
"They must be very dangerous," observed Steinhorst's friend, Connie Smith, another resident of the northern Champlain Valley. "Because they're doing a lot of trying to track them down."
Police in St. Albans spent Thursday closely watching the shoreline, as well as inspecting seasonal camp areas for suspicious activity. They said residents have been responsive to the heightened state of alert, but said people should not feel nervous about their safety.
"We're just trying to be thorough and making sure we're doing what we can as a police department to make sure our citizens feel safe," Lt. Ron Hoague of the St. Albans Police Dept. told necn.
Col. L'Esperance said Vermonters should expect an increased State Police presence near the shores of Lake Champlain, but said his troopers would not descend on any particular area in huge numbers unless there were a credible sighting of Matt or Sweat. "We don't want to create a show," L'Esperance said, reiterating there is no credible reason to believe the men are actually in Vermont.
L'Esperance provided an example of the type of person he hopes to assure through an increased level of attention on the case: "I bumped into a gentleman this morning while pumping gas and he told me he was concerned about his elderly mother who lives on the New York side of the lake," L'Esperance said. "She's 92 years old. That's exactly who--that type of person--we want to make sure we're providing safety to, and giving them a sense they're safe."