By Pete DeMola
CADYVILLE, N.Y. (Reuters) - Two prison escapees may have at least one gun from a cache of weapons in an upstate New York cabin where they hid about 20 miles from a maximum security facility, police said on Wednesday.
As the manhunt entered its 19th day, convicted killers David Sweat and Richard Matt were believed to have been last seen entering woods near the cabin in Owls Head, New York, on Saturday morning, Major Charles Guess of the New York State Police said at a press conference.
A bloody sock and other items found at the cabin reportedly owned by corrections officers were tested for DNA, and Guess said police had "100 percent assurance they were in that area."
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the cabin lead was based on “good evidence – DNA data.”
More than 1,000 law enforcement officers scoured 75 square miles in rugged Franklin County, east of Clinton Correctional Facility, where the breakout was discovered on June 6. Authorities are focused on the Adirondack Mountains, the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, state Department of Environmental Conservation Captain John Streiff said.
Authorities have received 2,200 tips from the public, Guess said.
"Just about every cabin or outbuilding in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons," Guess said. "They put an inordinate amount of weapons and ammunition and other tools in these shared seasonal hunting camps and cabins."
He said he had no reason to believe the dangerous fugitives would not have tried to arm themselves but can't be sure.
"You would think that they'd have some sort of an inventory," Guess said. But, he added, investigators found "a number of people cycle through these camps and cabins, and they do not have a definitive number of weapons, so they cannot tell us what's missing and what's not."
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, cut through the steel walls of their adjoining cells, slipped through a steam pipe and emerged from a manhole outside the prison's fortress-like walls in Dannemora, New York, according to authorities.
They used tools hidden in frozen hamburger meat brought into the prison by Joyce Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop, who is charged with aiding their escape, said Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie.
She supplied hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit to the men, whose previous good behavior landed them on the prison's honor block, allowing them to cook their own meals, Wylie said.
A corrections officer who brought the meat to the men - but did not know the tools were inside - was been placed on paid leave, he said.
(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Susan Heavey)