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Escapees had access to catwalks of prison for a month, source says

Richard W. Matt and David P. Sweat had access to the inner catwalks and passages of the maximum security prison where they were inmates for about a month before their escape, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told The Buffalo News on Tuesday.

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Watch: Michel discusses prisoners’ escape on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360”

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A square section of the steel wall in at least one of their cells was cut open at the base with a power saw, providing the access to the catwalk for their nighttime exploration of the prison’s innards, according to the source.

During the daytime, they disguised the hole by placing a sheet of cardboard from a box they had cut up and spray painted gray to matched the wall so that corrections officers would not notice the missing square of steel, the source said.

“They also went through two feet of a brick wall,” the source said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo previously said that the escapees had prowled the inner sections of the Clinton Correctional Facility but he did not know for how long.

The convicts eventually reached a 24-inch drainpipe, cut it open, and crawled in to get outside the prison, where they lifted a manhole and fled sometime between late Friday night and early Saturday morning.

“They had to have help to do what they did,” the source said. “They are in jail 24 hours a day and have nothing to do but think of their escape. Why would they end up in an honor block when they are both escape risks?”

There have been media reports speculating that Matt and Sweat were supposed to rendezvous with an individual who was to help them with their getaway outside the prison and whether the accomplice failed to show, but those reports have not been confirmed.

Throughout Tuesday, large numbers of state troopers and other members of law enforcement converged on a section of the rural community of Willsboro in Essex County, located about 30 miles southeast of the prison and along the shores of Lake Champlain. A resident of the town reportedly witnessed two men Monday night heading into the woods there.

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Buffalo News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report.