A man thought to be convicted murderer Richard Matt was killed during a shootout with U.S. Border Patrol officers after he was spotted in a wooded area near the town of Malone, the New York State Police said in a statement. A positive identification is pending.
Police were still combing the vicinity for Matt's accomplice, David Sweat, after a second man was seen fleeing. ABC News reported that a gun battle had erupted in the woods where Sweat was believed to be cornered.
Malone lies 27 miles (43 km) northwest of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where the convicted killers staged their elaborate escape and were discovered missing on June 6. The manhunt has involved as many as 1,100 law enforcement officers.
After the shootout, dozens of law enforcement vehicles, some of them equipped with floodlights, were converging on the area, signaling the search for Sweat would go on all night if necessary. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to speak in Malone at 8:30 p.m. (0030 GMT on Saturday)
Jeff Tough, who lives within the search perimeter across from Lake Titus, said state troopers were lining State Route 30 at regular intervals.
A state police spokesman did not return calls seeking more information about the manhunt.
On Friday afternoon, a man driving a camper in Malone contacted police after hearing shots and realizing bullets had pierced his vehicle, the Buffalo News said, citing unidentified sources. Police mobilized a tactical team and a shootout ensued, the News said.
“I feel relieved to be honest," Malone resident Matt Maguire said after learning of the shootout while he was stopped at a roadblock. "Everybody’s been on edge for 20 days.”
Police said earlier Friday that searchers found items that the pair appeared to have left behind in the area, cementing suspicions that the fugitives were headed for the Canadian border.
DNA testing on the undisclosed items was under way to see if they belonged to Sweat and Matt, said New York State Police Major Charles Guess.
"They dropped some items and left others behind," Guess said at a news conference in Malone, about 10 miles (15 km) from the Canadian border. He declined to identify the items or say where or when they were found.
During their escape, Matt and Sweat cut through the walls of their adjoining cells and sneaked along the catwalk to a steam pipe, slithered through the pipe and popped out of a manhole outside the prison walls.
Two prison workers have been charged with aiding them. Gene Palmer, 57, a corrections officer for 27 years, was suspended without pay from his job, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said.
He is accused of bringing hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit to the inmates, hidden in frozen hamburger meat supplied by Joyce Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop. She also has been charged in connection with the escape.
Palmer also let the men slip behind their cell walls onto a prison catwalk to hide contraband and alter electrical wiring so they could cook in their cells, according to court documents.
Matt, who turned 49 on Thursday, was convicted in the 1997 torture, murder and dismemberment of his boss in Tonawanda, New York, and was sentenced to 25 years to life.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence after his conviction in the shooting death of a Broome County Sheriff's deputy on July 4, 2002.
Immediately after the escape, the manhunt focused on an area east of Dannemora along the shore of Lake Champlain. But last weekend, the search shifted to New York's Southern Tier along its border with Pennsylvania. Officers were deployed to that area, where Sweat once lived, after a series of unconfirmed sightings of the pair, but the effort proved fruitless.