Massachusetts officials are on alert after an inmate charged with stealing guns from an armory in the state escaped from a maximum security prison in Rhode Island.
James Morales escaped from the Wyatt Correctional Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on New Year’s Eve, state police said. Authorities believe he soon made his way to Massachusetts.
Morales, 35, was in custody on charges that he stole 16 guns from a federal armory in Worcester in 2015.
"We're working collaboratively. It takes unity among law enforcement to apprehend someone," Massachusetts State Police Col. Rick McKeon told reporters on Tuesday. "We're giving it everyting we have. We ask people to be vigilant."
On Jan. 1, Massachusetts State Police and the state K-9 unit picked up a track on Morales in Attleboro, to an area under Route 95 near the Rhode Island state line. The track ended there, officials said, where police found what appeared to be discarded prison clothing with blood on it.
Officials found that Morales stole a car from a Burger King parking lot in Attleboro the previous night. The car, a green Chevrolet Lumina, has since been found in Framingham.
Framingham resident Venessa Lugo said that Morales knocked on her door on New Year’s Eve, according to WHDH. She didn’t know who he was until FBI investigators arrived later, after the escaped inmate had left.
His ex-girlfriend lives in an apartment above Lugo, WHDH reported.
Warden Daniel Martin of the correctional center said that Morales, a former Army reservist, escaped by climbing a basketball hoop, cutting through a fence that covered the recreation area and then making his way down the other side of the building, according to WPRI.
Surveillance video shows that Morales escaped at 7 p.m. but officers weren’t aware that he was missing until 10:30 p.m., WPRI reported.
Two correctional officers have been placed on leave as officials continue to investigate the escape.
Morales is described as a bald man, approximately 6 feet tall and 175 pounds. He most likely has cuts from his escape and also has an eagle tattoo on the left side of his neck.
"We have expressed that this threat to the public safety is unacceptable, that we are expecting a full investigation, and new measures to be put in place to ensure this type of incident never happens again," said Central Falls Mayor James Diossa after meeting with the prison's warden.
Morales' prior address was in Cambridge, state police said, and he also has connections to the Framingham area and to New York City.
"We know that he's a dangerous individual," U.S. Marshal Jamie Hainsworth told reporters on Tuesday, adding that Morales may be armed. "Right now our concentration is to find James Morales and we will do that."
When asked what his message was for Morales, Hainsworth said, "Turn yourself in."
Anyone with information on Morales’ whereabouts should call the marshals service at 800-336-0102 or call 911.