Police searches under way for missing New York prisoners

New York police investigate possible sightings of two convicted murderers who escaped a maximum-security prison two weeks ago

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Heavily-armed police converged on towns in western New York state on Saturday to investigate possible sightings of two convicted murderers who escaped a maximum-security prison two weeks ago, police said.

A witness saw two men who might have been the escapees walking along a railroad track in Friendship, a community of about 2,000 residents in a rural patch of Allegany County, New York State Police said in a statement.

Police set up a perimeter in the area of Friendship, about 280 miles (450 km) southwest of the Clinton Correctional Facility where the escaped convicts had been serving sentences for murder, said New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy.

It could not be confirmed if the two men were the escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat, Duffy added.

About 150 law enforcement officers were searching the area, Duffy said. The resources deployed, from a variety of agencies including the U.S. Marshals and State Police, included special operations teams, officers with dogs and helicopters.

State Police in a statement on Saturday said another possible sighting was made about 50 miles (80 km) east of Friendship around a construction site in Erwin, New York state, and that troopers and investigators were sent there.

Police had said the two men might have been spotted on June 13 near a rail yard in Erwin and the next day in nearby Lindley and that investigators were examining surveillance video to determine if that sighting from a week ago was the escapees.

The Marshals Service has put Matt and Sweat on its 15 Most Wanted Fugitives List.

The reported sightings of the men on Saturday came a day after officials said a corrections officer at Clinton Correctional Facility was suspended in connection with the escape.

Authorities did not say whether they believed the corrections officer, whose name was not released, would face charges or if the officer was believed to have assisted in the breakout.

Another prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, is accused of assisting the escapees. Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop who is charged with giving hacksaw blades to the convicted murderers, lost her nerve to drive their getaway car and instead checked into a hospital with a panic attack, authorities said.

The two inmates, who went through prison cell walls, a steam pipe and a manhole cover to escape, were discovered missing the morning of June 6, officials said.