State police say their intensive search for two escaped prisoners this weekend in Allegany County was based on a credible tip, but they added that there were no confirmed sightings of Richard Matt and David Sweat, who have been at large since June 6.
On Saturday, investigators received a tip from a witness claiming that two men spotted along the railroad tracks in the Town of Friendship matched the descriptions of Matt and Sweat. After a lengthy interview with the witness, police decided to follow the lead and began an intensive search that included an estimated 300 officers looking for the convicted murderers by land and by air.
They also set up traffic checkpoints. A portion of I-86 was closed and vehicles were being stopped for questioning. The cargo trailers of large trucks were being searched, and ATVs were brought in to assist with canvassing wooded areas.
Sweat and Matt escaped June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, near the Canadian border. On Friday, State Police said in a news release that two men fitting the description of Sweat and Matt had been seen a week ago in Steuben County. Officials also said Friday that a corrections officer was placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men's escape.
State Police held a short news briefing to update the media around 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
"Aviation, K9 and special operations teams were called in to assist with this search, which also included clearing a section of woods along railroad tracks in the Town of Friendship. We will continue to search this area until all leads have been exhausted. As we have in other areas of the state, we will search under every rock, behind every tree and structure until we are confident that that area is secure," said Troop A Commander Major Michael Cerretto.
Cerretto asked area residents to be on alert and call 911 immediately if the men are spotted. He said both are considered "very dangerous." The state police are offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to a capture of either suspect. The U.S. Marshals service has placed Sweat and Matt on their 15 Most Wanted Fugitives list and is offering an additional reward.
The troop commander ended the briefing after about three minutes, saying he would not be giving out any more details on the status of the investigation. He did say at least 300 additional officers from various levels had been brought into the area to assist in the search.
The fugitives have been in the run for two weeks after a daring escape from the jail. Both Sweat and Matt were imprisoned for murder. Many people are locking their doors and windows, which is unusual for the rural region.