BRASÍLIA — Thousands of miles from Pennsylvania, where escaped murderer Danilo Cavalcante led federal, state and local authorities on a 13-day manhunt, Túlio Pires Bragança followed the fugitive’s run with an ambivalent kind of fascination.
“I like to see Americans in bad shape,” Pires Bragança said.
Cavalcante, a 34-year-old Brazilian man sentenced to life last month for stabbing ex-girlfriend Deborah Brandao to death in front of her two young children in 2021, staged a spectacular escape from the Chester County Prison on Aug. 31, crab-walking up walls, scrambling through barbed wire and bolting across a roof. (Authorities and media in the United States have rendered his first name as Danelo.) He’s also wanted in his native Brazil, where he is accused of shooting a man to death in 2017.
Cavalcante’s run from justice transfixed Latin America, a region that admires U.S. strength while resenting its centuries of interference and exploitation. Some have seen him as a symbol of resistance to the behemoth to the north.
“Close to two weeks, escape of a Brazilian man embarrasses police in the U.S.,” O Globo crowed in Wednesday’s print editions. The Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper and other media here provided daily updates on the search. TikTok videos have drawn millions of views. Memes featuring crab-walking figures or images of Cavalcante’s escape have proliferated.
“Brazilians do not appear on any list,” one user posted on Twitter, above an Interpol Red Notice featuring Cavalcante’s scowling mug: “Danilo Cavalcante, a Brazilian in the United States, on the Interpol Red List, seeing this.”
Vera Iaconelli, a psychoanalyst in São Paulo, says the killer’s emergence as a kind of cult hero makes sense.
“We are more likely to identify ourselves with the weaker side of the story, the man alone against the institution with more resources, intelligence and weapons,” she said. “But in this case, he is not just the weak side of the story, he is Brazilian, a Latino, someone from South America. He represents a region that has historically suffered in the hands of the U.S.”
“May he survive to be able to tell the story,” Pires Bragança, 41, tweeted Tuesday. After Pennsylvania state police captured Cavalcante, he told The Washington Post he was surprised.
“I thought the police would kill him,” he said. “But now I really hope there is a film or documentary about him. I would like to understand his side of the story — but not the side of the murders he committed, the side of his escape. That escape was spectacular.”
Iaconelli underscores the point. “There is a difference between following the saga and being fascinated by the dispute between the weak versus the strong and sympathizing with the crimes he committed,” she said. “What has to be clear is that, in the end, we wanted him to be captured.
“It has the fun of a soap opera, and we want to see all the episodes in detail, but it has to end at some point. Otherwise, it stops being fun and becomes worrying due to the harsh reality of impunity,” Iaconelli said.
Eduardo Carlos, 27, has been sharing 3D animations of Cavalcante’s escape on TikTok. “I’ve been immersed in this story for days,” he said. “My computer has tabs open to American and Brazilian newspapers, I’m reading everything I can.”
The response has been immediate. His videos have drawn millions of views. A report on Cavalcante’s capture Wednesday drew more than 150,000 in the first hours.
“People want to see the second season,” he said. “People root for him. But I don’t believe they sympathize with the crime. They sympathize with the difficulty he was facing and, until now, he had managed to beat everyone.”