DNA belonging to at least one of the two murderers who busted out of a maximum-security prison in upstate New York more than two weeks ago was found in a cabin west of the maximum-security institution Saturday, sources tell NBC News.
The discovery has prompted authorities to shift the massive manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat to Mountain View and Owls Head, a pair of Franklin County hamlets about 30 miles west of the Clinton Correctional Facility. Military trucks and investigators converged on the tiny town after a man camping at a cabin said the dwelling had been broken into.
There are indications the pair are still traveling together, according to sources. One source with knowledge of the investigation said DNA testing from Owls Head matched both prisoners.
Acting Franklin County District Attorney Glenn MacNeill told WPTZ-TV Sunday that a person had been seen fleeing from a hunting camp in the area. Much of the county is within the Adirondack Park.
The redirection came just hours after hundreds had searched two towns more than 350 miles away, following an unconfirmed but credible report of another sighting. The search there concluded Monday morning, officials say.
Sweat and Matt broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6 and up to 800 law enforcement officers have gone door to door checking houses, wooded areas, campgrounds and summer homes.
Vermont State Police joined the search Sunday but it wasn't immediately known where they were sent.
Officials vowed to search "under every rock" and "behind every tree" on Sunday as law enforcement officers combed through a rural, mountainous area near the Pennsylvania border dotted with sheds, trailers, summer homes and other potential hideouts.
About 300 officers searched the towns of Amity and Friendship, where two men who resembled Sweat and Matt were spotted the day before near a railroad line that runs along a county road.
Though state police said the sightings were unconfirmed, the intense hunt was shifted across the state from the prison near the Canadian border.
Officers concentrated in the area along County Route 20 and Interstate 86. They walked railroad tracks, checked car trunks and deployed search dogs as a helicopter flew back and forth overhead. At one point, state police outfitted in camouflage could be seen heading into some woods.
"We will search under every rock, behind every tree and structure until we are confident that that area is secure," State Police Maj. Michael J. Cerretto said at a news conference.
But the state police later added in a news release that "a primary focus of the search" is still the area around far northern Dannemora, where the two convicted murderers used power tools to escape.
Until Saturday, the search for Matt and Sweat was concentrated in a several-mile radius around the prison in the Adirondacks. After a woman called in Saturday's possible sighting in Friendship, police interviewed the witness at length and decided she was credible and the tip bore investigating, Cerretto said.
Authorities also said Friday that two men fitting the descriptions of Sweat and Matt had been seen a week ago in Steuben County, east of Allegany County. Two men were seen walking near a rail yard in Erwin on June 13, and then spotted the next day in Lindley, heading toward the Pennsylvania border.
Investigators have conducted interviews in both communities and sent surveillance video to Albany for further analysis. Cerretto on Sunday wouldn't say whether there had been any further reports of sightings.
Two railroads in the area, the Western New York & Pennsylvania and the Norfolk Southern, referred inquiries Sunday to the state police. Another, the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad, hadn't been contacted by authorities but had advised its employees to be extra-vigilant in looking for anything out of the ordinary, general manager J.L. Pope said.
State police asked residents who live around Friendship to be on alert, warning that the escapees are "very dangerous" and should not be approached.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Prison worker Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.
Officials said a corrections officer also has been placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men's escape.