Focus of hunt for New York fugitives shifts to area west of prison

Story highlights

  • The latest search area is Owls Head in Franklin County, New York
  • Police say the search near the Pennsylvania border has wrapped up

(CNN)The focus of the manhunt for two convicted killers who escaped from a maximum security prison in upstate New York more than two weeks ago has shifted yet again.

The latest search area is Owls Head in Franklin County, an area roughly 20 to 25 miles west of the Clinton Correctional Facility, the prison from which Richard Matt and David Sweat broke out on June 6.
By late Sunday, a command post had been set up in the area with ATVs.
    For much of the weekend, attention had been focused hundreds of miles to the southwest, near New York's border with Pennsylvania after a possible sighting of the two fugitives was reported Saturday.
    But that part of the search, in Allegany County, has now been wrapped up, New York police said late Sunday. Extra patrols are being maintained in the area as a precaution.
    A person had reported seeing two men along a railroad line Saturday in the town of Friendship in Allegany County, New York State Police said.
    While state police called the report an "unconfirmed sighting," a law enforcement source briefed on the prisoner investigation told CNN there was a credible sighting of Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, near Friendship.
    About 300 law enforcement officers searched the area, Maj. Michael Cerretto of the New York State Police said Sunday afternoon at a press conference. Canine units and aircraft were used in the search, he said.

    A rifle in his lap

    The sudden swarm of attention on Friendship bewildered the rural town of 2,000 people.
    Gary Baker, 80, said he was terrified of the possibility that the killers could be in the area.
    Normally, Baker is a caretaker at the town's Maple Grove Cemetery, right next to his home. But authorities blocked off the cemetery as search helicopters hovered overhead.
    Now, Baker sits alone in his home, with all his doors locked and a rifle in his lap.
    "I think they're really serious that they've seen somebody," Baker said. "I just hope they catch them."
    Emergency services radio traffic monitored by CNN indicated large numbers of police had moved into the area. At one point, responding officers were asked to maintain radio silence.
    Jenn Schanz, a reporter for CNN affiliate WIVB in Buffalo, tweeted that she was asked to leave the search area because state police said it was a "hot spot."

    Other possible sightings

    Allegany County isn't the only area investigators have received tips from.
    Last weekend, witnesses reported seeing two suspicious men in Steuben County, about 45 miles east of Friendship, state police said.
    "Witnesses spotted two men on June 13 walking near the Gang Mills railyard on Rita's Way in the town of Erwin," police said "The next day, two men with the same description were spotted walking along County Route 115 in the town of Lindley, heading toward the Pennsylvania border."
    Could tracks belong to the escaped killers?
    Could tracks belong to the escaped killers?


      Could tracks belong to the escaped killers?


    Could tracks belong to the escaped killers? 01:11
    The unconfirmed sightings came from two separate people, police spokesman Beau Duffy said. State police have sent investigators to the areas to conduct interviews.
    On Saturday, police urged anyone living in the Allegany County area along the New York-Pennsylvania border to be on alert for Matt and Sweat, who many say have nothing to lose.
    "Do not approach," officials warned. "Both are considered to be very dangerous."
    So dangerous, in fact, that the U.S. Marshals Service added Matt and Sweat to its list of the 15 most wanted fugitives. The list "is reserved for the worst of the worst," said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton. "There is no question David Sweat and Richard Matt fall into this category."
    A $75,000 reward is being offered for information leading to either man's capture.
    The U.S. Marshals Service has added Richard Matt, left, and David Sweat to its list of the 15 most wanted criminals.
    As many as 800 law enforcement officers have participated in the manhunt, which has cleared nearly 200 abandoned buildings, hundreds of occupied homes and more than 600 miles of rural trails, officials said.
    "We're not going anywhere," New York State Police Maj. Charles Guess said. "Our plan is to pursue these men relentlessly until they are in custody."
    State police have asked hunters and homeowners with surveillance cameras to check their footage all the way back to the day of the prison break, for any unusual activity.
    The search has stretched to Canada and Mexico, with wanted posters of the escaped killers distributed at both borders.

    Relations with the prison tailor

    New details have emerged about the relationships between the convicts and prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, who has been charged with aiding in escape.
    Joyce Mitchell, 51, is behind bars, accused of providing the escapees with sneaking hacksaw blades, chisels, drill bits, a punch and other contraband before they broke out.
    Authorities have said Matt had a sexual relationship with Mitchell.
    No court date has been set for Mitchell, who has pleaded not guilty to the two charges brought against her and has been talking to authorities. If convicted, she could face up to eight years behind bars.
    Her husband Lyle, who also worked in the prison's tailoring block, feels betrayed by what happened, his attorney says.
    The prosecutor said Wednesday that Lyle Mitchell didn't know about the prisoners' escape plan before it happened and wasn't aware of his wife's relationships with the inmates.
    And in another development, a corrections officer was placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the escape, the state corrections department said. The officer's name was not released.
    The district attorney declined to comment beyond saying that the corrections officer was male.