New York State Police vowed Wednesday to look "behind every tree, under every rock and in every structure" until they find the two killers who busted out of a maximum-security prison with power tools in a Hollywood-style escape over the weekend and said they were "all-in" on the search amid a growing dragnet that saw police plead for help as far as Massachusetts, Vermont and Pennsylvania.
Officials closed NYS Route 374 east of Dannemora late Wednesday evening in the search for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility. The highway between General Leroy Manor Road and Rand Hill Road in West Plattsburgh was expected to remain closed through Thursday morning as police investigated a possible lead. A detour was set up using General Leroy Manor Road and Rand Hill Road.
At a news briefing Wednesday at Clinton Correctional Facility, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico reassured the community troopers were doing everything possible to keep residents safe, and asked them to remain vigilant in the event they spotted the killers, who are considered extremely dangerous.
Gov. Cuomo and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stood with state troopers to reassure the public and outline new tactical approaches based on information that Matt and Sweat may have talked about fleeing to Vermont. New York State Police were prepared to line the border in what has become a multiagency, multinational effort to find the two men, who cut through a steel wall, broke through bricks and crawled through a steam pipe before emerging through a manhole outside the prison.
Sweat, 34, and Matt, 48, were discovered missing early Saturday after stuffing their beds with clothes to fool guards on their rounds and leaving behind a taunting note: "Have a nice day."
Cuomo said Wednesday the prisoners may have broken out as early as midnight, and state troopers said they were aware it was possible the murderers had a six-hour lead on police. Authorities said, though, that Matt and Sweat may not have taken advantage of that head start, and that's why they were continuing to search in areas near the prison as well as in other states and countries.
But at the late-afternoon news conference, D'Amico confessed: "I have no information on where they are or what they're doing, to be honest with you."
Fifty digital billboards were unveiled across four states — from Boston to Erie, Pennsylvania — on Wednesday, showing the killers' photos and urging the public to be on the lookout for them. Police in tactical gear with assault rifles were going door-to-door and set up a highway checkpoint in northern New York as law enforcement retraced the initial steps they made after the escape.
"They'll be doing a 100 percent sweep from the prison right out, see how that goes," said David Favro, the sheriff for Clinton County, where the prison is located, about 20 miles from the Canadian border.
Law enforcement officials reiterated their plea for the public's help in reporting anything unusual in the area since the prison break, which was discovered over the weekend.
"We don't want them out searching the woods," Favro said. "But if you're sitting on your porch, get your binoculars out and see if you see something unusual."
A search Tuesday in a rural town about 30 miles from the prison turned up no sign of the convicts. The search was prompted by reports of two men seen walking late Monday during a driving rainstorm along a road in Willsboro, near Lake Champlain.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers swept through the small Adirondack foothills town. Searchers walked shoulder to shoulder, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying sidearms as they went through hilly woods, fields and swamps, checking every home, garage, shed and outbuilding, then yelling, "Clear!" when there were no signs of the inmates.
The escape from the 3,000-inmate state prison has raised suspicions the men had help on the inside. Sources tell NBC News that investigators have questioned prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, who taught the prisoners how to make Metro-North uniforms and was hospitalized with "a case of the nerves" the day of the murderers' escape.
It's still not clear how Sweat and Matt got the power tools that helped them bust out. Investigators have been questioning prison workers and outside contractors to try to find out who may have supplied them. Contractors have been doing extensive renovations at the 170-year-old prison, a hulking, fortress-like structure that looms over Dannemora's main street.
A $100,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the men' capture.
Sweat was convicted in the 2002 killing of a sheriff's deputy and was doing life without parole. Matt was serving 25 years to life for kidnapping and dismembering his boss in 1997.
Sources told NBC News that the men were supposed to be picked up by a getaway car after the escape, but the accomplice either arrived too early, too late or not at all, leading the men to flee on foot. But now, authorities and officials have said, the men could be anywhere, even in Canada or Mexico.