Official describes video of Michael Burham's prison escape: 'Like a spider'

'There was no delay, nobody was having a sandwich,' official said of response.

July 13, 2023, 2:32 PM

As the manhunt for suspected murderer and "self-taught survivalist," Michael Burham stretched into its seventh day Thursday in the northeast Pennsylvania woods, an official who viewed surveillance video of the jail escape said the fugitive "looked like a spider" as he quickly made his getaway from the lock-up's rooftop recreational yard cage.

More than 200 officers from 15 federal, state and local agencies are conducting an intense search for the 34-year-old Burham, who was being held on $1 million bail at the Warren County Jail when he escaped on July 6, authorities said.

Officials suspect Burham received assistance in the jailbreak and since being on the lam, authorities said.

Investigators are looking for a person who was operating a drone near the Warren County Jail around the exact time Burham absconded, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens revealed Wednesday evening. Bivens said while there could be a "reasonable explanation" for the drone flying in the area, he added, "I'm not a big believer in coincidences."

"If there's not an innocent explanation, perhaps that assists us in finding him and also finding anyone providing aid," Bivens said.

Warren County Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said he viewed a video of the escape and defended the response time of the jail staff, saying they marshaled a response within seconds of Burham's escape, but that the fugitive was too fast for them and got away by using bed sheets tied together to rappel from the jail's roof to the ground and flee.

Eggleston said according to what he saw in the video, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Burham appeared “like a spider" as he climbed atop workout equipment in the 40-foot-by-40-foot rooftop recreation room, and squeezed through a hole at the top of the of the caged exercise area. Eggleston said Burham also breached a second chain-link fence barrier over the jail's roof, finding a "small portion" where pieces that hold down the fencing were broken.

The commissioner estimated the entire escape took about 10 seconds.

The Jamestown Police Department released this booking photo of Michael Burham.
Jamestown Police Department

"The fundamental problem is that there was a structural weakness in the cage on the roof. That's it," Eggleston said when pressed by ABC News. "As far as the facility goes, if that hadn't been the case, you wouldn't be here we wouldn't be having this conversation.”

Before making his brazen escape around 11:20 p.m., Burham was in the recreation room with three other inmates, Eggleston said. He said that while there was no guard in the recreation room, jail staff were monitoring cameras focused on the area.

“The amount of time that he got out of that room was quicker than anybody could respond to get inside the room,” Eggleston said. "Within seconds of Michael Burham's escape, and that's him getting on the roof outside of the cage, our people were alerted, the entire facility was put on alert and began to respond."

Eggleston added, "There was no delay, nobody was having a sandwich. It wasn't a situation where somebody was asleep at the wheel."

Warren Police Chief Joe Sproveri, whose agency is investigating the escape, told the Warren Times Observer newspaper that it appears an "extensive amount of preparation" went into the escape.

Sproveri said Burham was last seen on security camera at 11:23 p.m. on June 6 and that his officers were called around 11:25 and on the scene by 11:27 p.m.

He said that while his officers quickly set up a perimeter around the jail, they didn't have a sense of where Burham went after accessing the roof until they discovered the tied-together bedsheet on the western side of an adjacent courthouse. He said officers still didn't know which direction Burham ran once on the ground until they managed to view the exterior courthouse surveillance camera footage about 60 to 90 minutes after the escape, giving Burham a significant head start.

He blamed "technical difficulties" for causing the delay in getting the exterior courthouse video.

Reached by ABC News, Sproveri confirmed that his comments published by the Times Observer are accurate.

"There was a significant time delay before we knew where the track was to put the K-9,” Sproveri said. “(We) need a pretty specific location to start running a dog trail."

A $19,500 reward is being offered for information leading to Burham's capture. Bivens said more than 500 tips have come in, mostly from residents of northeast Pennsylvania claiming Burham was spotted.

Bivens said Burham was being held at the jail on kidnapping and burglary charges. The Chautauqua County, New York, District Attorney's Office confirmed that Burham is the prime suspect in the May 11 slaying in Jamestown of 34-year-old Kala Hodgkin.

Burham is accused of fleeing the area following the Hodgkin slaying as police searched for him. While on the run in May, he allegedly abducted an elderly couple in Warren County and forced them to drive him to South Carolina, where he was arrested on May 24 and brought back to Pennsylvania, police said.

Bivens reiterated Wednesday evening that Burham is suspected of being armed and dangerous, and advised anyone who spots to not approach him and call police immediately.

"Without going into a lot of detail, we have additional information that we have gleaned recently that causes me to have additional concerns that he may be armed," Bevins said.

ABC News' Alex Presha contributed to this report.