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Why did escaped convict Richard Matt fire a gun?

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Mary Altaffer/AP

(Read caption) Law enforcement officials stand guard at the perimeter of the search for convicted murderer David Sweat, Saturday, June 27, in Duane, N.Y. Convicted murderer Richard Matt was shot and killed by a border patrol agent in a wooded area about 40 miles from the Clinton Correctional Facility on Friday, and David Sweat is on the run, authorities said.

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Three weeks and 39 miles from where it all began, one escaped convict from the largest prison in New York is dead, and his accomplice is still on the run. 

A border patrol agent shot and killed escaped prisoner Richard Matt on Friday, after he was discovered in the woods following a 21-day manhunt in the thick trees and rocky terrain of the Adirondacks. The hunt for David Sweat is ongoing.

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"You never want to see anyone lose their life," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Friday. "But I would remind people that Mr. Matt was an escaped murderer from a state prison. Mr. Matt killed two people who we know about.... Mr. Sweat is also dangerous," he said, and responsible for the death of a sheriff's deputy. "These are dangerous, dangerous men."

Mr. Matt gave away his position when the convicted murderer chose to start firing a gun in the middle of the afternoon, during the hunting off-season.

Just before 2 p.m., Matt took aim at a camper and fired, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico told reporters late Friday. "They thought maybe they had a flat. They got out; they realized they didn't have a flat," D’Amico said.

The campers continued until they reached their campsite eight miles down the road, at which point "they examined the trailer that they were towing and realized that there was a bullet hole through the back of the camper," D'Amico said.

The driver called the police, who then searched a cabin near the road where the camper had been shot at.

The smell of lingering gunpowder and evidence of a quick exit out the back door led federal agents into the woods, where they heard a cough, D’Amico said.

Shortly thereafter, authorities put eyes on Matt and told him to put his hands up. When he didn’t comply, a border patrol agent shot and killed the escaped prisoner. His accomplice, David Sweat, may have been with him at the time, but his current whereabouts are unknown, said Governor Cuomo. Near Matt’s body was a 20-gauge shotgun, D'Amico said, a weapon most commonly used to hunt rabbits and squirrels.  

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Law enforcement then shut down roads in the area and created a perimeter in hopes of penning in Mr. Sweat, but Gov. Cuomo said Friday evening that there was “nothing to confirm about where Mr. Sweat is at this time.” D'Amico encouraged people to call a tip line if they have any information, and said that they had already received over 2,400 calls. 

According to the US Border Patrol handbook, agents are not permitted to fire a warning shot and “use of deadly force is not authorized solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject.” Deadly force can be used if the individual threatens serious injury or death and poses an imminent risk of escape.

It is still unclear why Matt chose to open fire in the middle of the day. Also still unknown is why authorities believe David Sweat was near Matt during the pursuit. 

US Border Patrol would not comment on the ongoing investigation, but a public affairs officer said a statement from New York State Police, who are leading the investigation, would be forthcoming.