Police: Items believed connected to jail escapee still being found; reward increases

Jul 11, 2023, 2:13 PM | Updated: 3:52 pm

WARREN, Pa. (AP) — Authorities searching for a homicide suspect who used bedsheets to escape from a northwestern Pennsylvania jail last week say items found in the last 24 hours lead them to believe he is still in the area.

Authorities added that reward money in the case has more than doubled.

Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police earlier said campsites and small stockpiles believed to be related to escapee Michael Burham had been found, and he said Tuesday that searchers “are still finding some items that we do believe are connected to him.”

“Those lead me to believe that there is still a likelihood that he is here; I also look at the absence of proof that he has gone anywhere else,” Bivens told reporters in a regular late afternoon news conference at the Youngsville, Pennsylvania, municipal building.

Burham, 34, fled the Warren County Prison late Thursday by climbing on exercise equipment, climbing through a window and then down a rope fashioned from jail bedding, authorities said. Burham was being held on $1 million bail and was charged with kidnapping, burglary and other counts.

Bivens said searchers have been investigating possible sightings and break-ins of unoccupied structures or cabins, using technology such as DNA to see if Burham is connected to them. But so far no link to him had been confirmed, Bivens said.

“I have a strong belief that he is receiving help,” Bivens said, repeating a warning that such actions would have consequences. “Again, I caution anyone that is currently giving help or is contemplating it, we will prosecute you for it.”

The addition of a $10,000 reward posted by Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers has raised the total reward money in the case to $19,500, Bivens said. The U.S. Marshals Service earlier offered $7,500 for information leading to Burham’s capture, and Warren County Crime Stoppers has offered $2,000.

More than 200 state, federal and local law enforcement officers are involved in the manhunt, he said.

Warren County Sheriff Brian Zeybell, asked about the response after the prison escape, said city police were on the scene almost immediately.

“Literally, I would say that Burham saw red and blue lights within two minutes of leaving that jail. They were that close,” he said. Correction officers were in the parking lot within two minutes, he added, saying “the response time couldn’t have been any quicker.”

District Attorney Jason Schmidt of Chautauqua County, New York, said last month that Burham is the prime suspect in the May 11 killing of Kala Hodgkin, 34, and a related arson in Jamestown, New York. Authorities also accuse him of abducting an elderly couple in Pennsylvania while trying to evade capture before his arrest in South Carolina. Burham “is considered very dangerous,” Warren city police said.

Local, multistate and federal authorities have searched numerous residences, abandoned structures and wooded areas using K-9 units and aerial resources such as drones and aircraft, authorities said.

Bivens has said that Burham taught himself survival skills and had military reserve training.

Authorities were searching a very large area with a lot of difficult terrain that has cabins, oil and gas sheds, and shacks that could offer a fugitive a place to hide, officials have said.

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Police: Items believed connected to jail escapee still being found; reward increases