NEW GLASGOW, N.S. -- Many Nova Scotians were disturbed on Friday night when N.S. RCMP issued a province-wide alert, just before midnight, announcing the escape of a correctional facility inmate in New Glasgow. Following the tragedies the province has endured in just a few short months, many were shaken by the warning notifying them of the escapee, who is facing assault and attempted murder charges.

"We heard my phone go off, we jumped about six feet in the air, looked over and saw that an inmate had escaped from the nearby prison,” says gas station employee, Laura Stewart. “I only live five minutes away, so it was kind of nerve-racking – got a little bit worried coming into work this morning because we hadn't heard if he was caught."

Police say 33-year-old Kevin Edward Clarke-McNeil escaped the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility sometime before 8:30 p.m. on Friday.

RCMP and New Glasgow police responded quickly, surrounding the area and warning neighbours.

"We converged on that location, the Colburn, Priestville area of Pictou County,” says N.S. RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce. “Working with our partners from New Glasgow police services, we coordinated and cordoned off that area."

Residents on edge

While police searched, tensions were high for nearby residents.

“It was a pretty crazy night,” says resident Mack MacKinnon. “Had all the doors and windows locked up, and everybody was calling our phone – everyone who lives in the neighbourhood; we started making calls to them to make sure they had their doors and windows locked up."

"I did all my outside stuff as quick as I could,” says Stewart. “Put out the extinguishers and the squeegees, and locked the doors as fast as I could."

Troubled past

Originally from Ontario, Clarke-McNeil was being held on several charges, including attempted murder. He was one of the 15 people charged in connection with a beating that left a 46-year-old man suffering from life-threatening injuries at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth in December of 2019.

Pursuing the escapee

Via Twitter, RCMP said they believed Clarke-McNeil was on foot and dangerous – but soon had reason to believe he had already left the area.

"Our police dog service attended the scene, they got a brief track that led to a roadway,” says Joyce. “We were not certain that he had gotten into a vehicle, but we had indication that he might have."

Police say they believed Clarke-McNeil might have been attempting to return to Halifax, noting they received several tips throughout the night of sightings throughout the province. However, shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, they received calls of three different incidents in Guysborough County.

"The incidents that occurred in the morning, involving a fire, an ATV in the roadway and a stolen ATV – they all occurred in the Guysborough area,” says Joyce. “The means of how he got from Pictou County to Guysborough County is still under investigation."

Restoring order

Police captured Clarke-McNeil at around 9:45 a.m. on MacDonald Cove Road near Sheet Harbour, which is about 100 kilometres south of the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

"I would like to thank law enforcement for their efforts in apprehending this individual, and the public for their co-operation in providing information and tips," said Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Nova Scotia, Mark Furey in a press release on Saturday.

Community reflects on commotion

Despite Clarke-McNeil being caught and taken back into custody, the residents say news of the chase stirred up quite the commotion in their quiet community.

"Not too much goes on around here without anyone knowing about it – it’s a pretty small town,” says MacKinnon. “When something big like that happens around here, everyone's on the phone; everyone's contacting everybody."

Investigation begins

As for how Clarke-McNeil managed to escape the facility, RCMP say they’re investigating the matter. Additionally, officers from Correctional Services Canada were also present at the facility on Saturday afternoon and is conduction a full review of the incident.

RCMP note Clarke-McNeil is expected to face additional charges, including possession of stolen property, concerning the ATV he was spotted riding. In the meantime, police aren’t saying whether he will be brought back the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, or detained elsewhere moving forward.