Police blocked off the main road outside a northern New York village as authorities on Thursday concentrated their sixth day of searching for two escaped murderers on a swampy area just a couple of miles from the prison the convicts broke out of last weekend.
State police closed Route 374 on Thursday morning as well as other nearby roads just east of Dannemora, where David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48, used power tools to cut their way out of maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility.
A police helicopter flew over a heavily wooded area dotted with swamps as troopers and corrections officers stood guard at regular intervals along a miles-long stretch of a nearby road. The search area appeared to be focused about 2 miles east of the prison, where the escape was discovered early Saturday by guards checking the inmates' cells.
Local schools were closed Thursday, and residents were told by authorities to lock their doors.
The renewed activity so close to the prison appeared to be the best hope of catching the two convicts since Wednesday, when authorities acknowledged being in the dark about their whereabouts or doings, even as the hunt for the men expanded past state borders.
On Wednesday New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said a prison employee — identified in news reports as Joyce Mitchell, a training supervisor at the prison tailor shop — had befriended the killers and “may have had some role in assisting them.” He would not elaborate.
Mitchell's son, Tobey Mitchell, told NBC that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains Saturday. He said she wouldn't have helped the inmates escape.
The longest previous escape from a New York prison lasted just three days, according to data from the New York Department of Corrections. In the last decade, freedom lasted less than six hours for 60 percent of the 30 inmates who succeeded in breaking out.
“When you escape, not only do you need the essentials like clothing, food and shelter, but you need some sort of long-term plan where your identity will be hidden,” said researcher Bryce Peterson, who focuses on inmates and prisons for the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.
Authorities on Wednesday expanded the search after investigators learned that the inmates had talked before last weekend's breakout about going to neighboring Vermont.
“We have information that suggests they thought New York was going to be hot. Vermont would be cooler, in terms of law enforcement,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said at the news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Shumlin and other officials would not say how authorities learned that information.
The killers' mugshots have been put on more than 50 digital billboards in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, police said, and a $100,000 reward has been posted.
Using power tools, Sweat and Matt cut through a steel wall, broke through bricks and crawled through a steam pipe before emerging through a manhole in the street outside the 3,000-inmate Clinton Correctional Facility in far northern New York, about 20 miles from the Canadian border.
Authorities suspect the inmates had help from the inside in obtaining the power tools. Unions representing guards and civilian staff members at the prison said many have been questioned by investigators, but no one has been disciplined or charged.
Vermont authorities are patrolling Lake Champlain and areas alongside it, Shumlin said. Cuomo urged the people of Vermont to be on the alert and report anything suspicious, warning: “Trust me, these men are nothing to be trifled with.”