DANNEMORA, N.Y. — Two convicted murders used power tools to cut through steel and shimmied through a steam pipe to escape from a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border, leaving behind a taunting note urging authorities to “Have a nice day.”
The elaborate escape Saturday from an upstate New York prison had hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers searching through the night for one man imprisoned for killing a sheriff’s deputy and another who dismembered his boss.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Richard Matt and David Sweat staged “a really elaborate, sophisticated operation” that ended at a manhole cover blocks away from the prison — and must have been overheard by someone.
“They were heard, they had to be heard,” Cuomo told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Sunday.
The men had filled their beds inside the Clinton Correctional Facility with clothes to appear as though they were sleeping. They left behind a note — a yellow square of paper with a smiling, bucktoothed face, along with the words, “Have a nice day.”
Roadblocks were set up in the area, which is about 20 miles from the Canadian border, and bloodhounds and helicopters were being used to track down the men, officials said.
Cuomo on Saturday called described the two as extremely dangerous. He asked the public to notify the police should they encounter the men.
“It’s very important that we locate these individuals,” he said. “They are dangerous and we want to make sure they don’t inflict any more pain and any more harm on New Yorkers.”
Sweat, 34, is serving a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County, New York, on July 4, 2002. Matt, 48, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the kidnapping, dismemberment and killing of his former boss in 1997.
The two men’s adjoining cells were empty during a morning check, said Anthony Annucci, the acting state corrections commissioner.
“A search revealed that there was a hole cut out of the back of the cell through which these inmates escaped,” Annucci said. “They went onto a catwalk which is about six stories high. We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility through tunnels, cutting away at several spots.”
Investigators were probing how the men acquired the tools — and if any were missing from contractors at the prison.
Officials said it was the first escape from the maximum-security portion of the prison, which was built in 1865.
The prison is about 32 km from the Canadian border, south of Quebec, and Plattsburg, N.Y., radio station WIRY-AM reported roadblocks had been set up in the area.
The escape also prompted the Ontario Provincial Police to issue an internal alert to its officers.
Due to the close proximity of the prison to the Canadian border, OPP officers are patrolling with “heightened vigilance,” said Sgt. Peter Leon, the force’s provincial media relations co-ordinator.
However, Leon stressed that there was no indication the two fugitives had crossed the border into Ontario, or were even headed that way. He said the primary purpose of the alert was to keep officers safe.
Police in Quebec said they had not received any special alerts or instructions regarding the escaped inmates.
Sweat is white, 5 feet 11 inches, with brown hair and green eyes and weighs 165 pounds, police said. He has tattoos on his left bicep and his right fingers.
Matt is white, 6 feet tall, with black hair and hazel eyes, according to police. He weighs 210 pounds and has tattoos including “Mexico Forever” on his back, a heart on his chest and left shoulder and a Marine Corps insignia on his right shoulder.
Sweat and another man fired 15 rounds into Deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002 shortly after using a pickup truck to break into a Pennsylvania woman’s house, stealing rifles and handguns, authorities have said.
And nearly a decade after the 1997 kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of his former boss, William Rickerson, in upstate New York, Matt was returned to the U.S. from Mexico where he had fled to and, later, arrested for fatally stabbing another American outside a bar in a robbery attempt. He was convicted in 2008 of Rickerson’s death.
The Associated Press