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Two killers on the run after remarkable escape from maximum security

In upstate New York, two prisoners from the state's largest maximum security prison were discovered missing Saturday. Since then, police have swept the town and countryside, searching for the two convicted murdered who cut through cement walls and steel gratings to emerge from a manhole outside the prison's walls. William Brangham talks to Jesse McKinley of The New York Times.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    An intensive manhunt continued in Upstate New York today, after two prisoners were discovered missing Saturday from the state’s largest maximum security prison, following a remarkable escape that stunned the authorities.

    William is back with that story.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Police continue to sweep the town and countryside surrounding Dannemora Prison, searching for two convicted murders who cut through cement walls and steel pipes, then eventually emerged through a manhole outside the prison’s walls, about a block away.

    Richard Matt kidnapped, killed and dismembered a man in 1997. David Sweat killed a sheriff’s deputy in 2002, shooting him more than a dozen times. Over the weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo toured the prison and talked about the breakout.

  • GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, New York:

    This is the first escape from the maximum security portion of the institution ever since 1865. So, by definition, it was an extraordinary act.

    And when you look at how it was done, it was extraordinary. I mean, we went through the tunnels. You look at the precision of the operation, it was truly extraordinary.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    For the latest, we’re joined by Jesse McKinley, who has been reporting on the break for The New York Times, and joins me from Dannemora, New York.

    Jesse, thank you very much for being here.

    We have this enormous manhunt under way. Tell us where this latest — where it stands right now. Given how long ago these men broke out, this has got to be a huge search area.

  • JESSE MCKINLEY, The New York Times:

    Yes, this is day three of this.

    And according to the state authorities, at this point, there are about 300 officers involved. And according to the governor of the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo, this could be a national — nationwide search.

    Initially, of course, they were interested in the area around this prison, which is just to my right here, but at this point, it’s expanded beyond the borders of the state, potentially to Canada. Mexican authorities have been alerted, as have officials in the Southwest, where one of the suspects, Richard Matt, was believed to have taken refuge at one point.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    For people who haven’t really been following the ins and outs of this, could you just describe how remarkable this breakout really was?

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Well, and not only — in terms of sophistication, it was quite remarkable.

    They managed to obtain power tools somehow. They managed to cut holes in the walls of their cells. They clamored down into the bowels of this prison. Then they managed to cut their way into a steam pipe of some sort or a drain pipe and crawl probably 300, 400 feet underground and then emerge out of a manhole.

    Just the sheer level of coordination that would have taken, the amount of cutting, steel on steel, in a confined space of a prison, to go undetected or, if they were detected — if they were detected, to either have cooperation of other inmates inside or even a prison — some sort of prison official, to hide their whereabouts and hide their activities is pretty remarkable.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Have officials given any sense of how long it must have taken them? You’re describing a very Byzantine route through the innards of the prison. How long would this have taken them?

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Well, they really don’t know at this point. It could have been days. It could have been days weeks.

    What many people are very certain of that it certainly wasn’t hatched overnight. This is not something that they came up with on a whim. The level of coordination, once again, the amount of time it took to get through the walls, into the tunnels, through the steam pipe and out of the manhole may have only taken an hour in practice, but in terms of preparation, it would have taken days or maybe weeks.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Governor Cuomo said that this obviously seems like it’s an inside job. Is that just because, as you have described, it just seems impossible that two men could have pulled this off by themselves?

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Well, that, and in addition, there is a sense that the noise they would have created would have been intense. There is a report out today that they may have had some sort of associate, a female associate inside of the prison who may have been involved romantically or otherwise with one of the two suspects.

    I think, though, at this point, that authorities are basically casting a very wide net. They’re not certain as to what happened beyond the escape. But, right now, the main source of their search is to get these two guys and get them back into prison.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I wonder if you could describe what it’s like in the community itself. Having two convicted murderers loose in your neighborhood has got to be alarming, to say the least. Have you seen evidence of that? Have you heard that from people?

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Well, it’s interesting. I mean, this is very much a prison town. This is a place where generation after generation has worked in the prison.

    Corrections officers are very common in the town. And they are police officers. So there’s a sense that, with all of the intensity, all of the law enforcement officials that are here, this is actually one of the safest places in the country.

    At the same time, the act of the breakout, the fact that they were able to penetrate the walls and get loose in a community that is supposedly secure, I think that was unsettling for a lot of people.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The traditional ways we think of that we track criminals, cell phones, credit cards, means like that, is there any sense of how they’re going about trying to track these men who may not have access to any of those things at this point?

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Well, you’re exactly right.

    There’s some suggestion that they may have had an accomplice on the outside who may have a car. But, beyond that, they certainly don’t have cell phones, they certainly don’t have cell phones credit cards. Many of the modern tracking devices that law enforcement would use to find these guys simply don’t apply in this case.

    But, that being said, if they had hooked up with someone outside, they may be scanning videotapes of gas stations. They may be checking out eyewitness of reports who may have seen these people traveling along interstates or what have you.

    But in terms of electronic surveillance, there was very little electronic surveillance here at the prison. And on the street corner in which they emerged, there were certainly no cameras there.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    OK. Jesse McKinley of The New York Times, thank you very much for joining us.

  • JESSE MCKINLEY:

    Absolutely.

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