- One inmate feared he'd be shot by residents, a local sheriff says
- 2 accused murderers and 1 other escape from a southeastern Missouri jail
- They get out through a ceiling in a shower stall out of sight of cameras, guards
- They were found hiding in a vehicle in a salvage yard, a state trooper says
Five, maybe 10 minutes was all it took.
Shortly before midnight Monday, three inmates at the Butler County, Missouri, jail -- two of them accused killers -- slipped into a shower stall, through a shifted ceiling tile and eventually outside to the rural Ozark Foothills region of southeast Missouri.
"There are some things that you have to scratch your head about in the (jail's) design and construction," Butler County Sheriff Mark Dobbs said. "And there's also the (fact there) are two people watching 95 inmates."
The men -- Joe Green, jailed on numerous assault charges, as well as accused killers Matthew Brandon Cook and Kade Reaves Stringfellow -- remained at large until Tuesday afternoon.
Around 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET), they were found hiding in a vehicle in a salvage yard about five miles east of Poplar Bluff, said Trooper Clark Parrott of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Video later showed all three men being taken out of police cars and led back into the jail.
"It's been a very long night and a very long day," Dobbs told reporters after the men's capture.
The part of the shower stall where the men escaped was out of sight of cameras, as well as the two guards, according to the sheriff. He noted that there wasn't any noise to indicate anything was awry.
The inmates crawled up through about a 10-inch by 10-inch hole above the ductwork, before eventually making their way outside -- an escape made easier because the walls "didn't extend completely up to the concrete ceiling," Dobbs said.
"They were in and out in what we feel like was a relatively short amount of time," he said.
Numerous law enforcement agencies -- from as far away as Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as helicopters from the Missouri Highway Patrol -- assisted in the search for the three men.
The inmates traveled together alongside a flat, exposed and elevated railroad track, Dobbs said, pointing to an analysis of their tracks and preliminary interviews with the men. They were wearing bright orange jumpsuits.
The fact they were so visible, especially in broad daylight and in an area where many citizens own guns, appeared to weigh on the three men's minds, Dobbs said.
" 'If I'd have been a citizen, I'd have shot me, too,' " one of the escapees said, according to Dobbs. "You're down in southeast Missouri, the gun belt, and people will protect themselves."
A tracking dog eventually led authorities to the salvage yard in a rural part of Butler County. The sheriff said he still believes the inmates intended to leave the area, but a combination of factors -- including the fact they were exposed and a large law enforcement team looking for them -- contributed to their capture.
"Luck was on our side this time, as well as a lot of good teamwork," Dobbs said.