A prosecutor pursuing a case against one of the three men who broke out of a Southern California prison Friday reacted: "Oh, my God, they let Hannibal Lecter out."
Hossein Nayeri, a former Marine who had escaped to his native Iran in 2012, faces charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told The Orange County Register the man is "diabolical... sophisticated, incredibly violent and cunning.”
Brown says Nayeri helped kidnap a marijuana dealer in 2012, burned him with a blow torch and forced another suspect to cut off the dealer's penis because Nayeri thought the man had buried money in the desert. Soon afterwards, investigators say he left for Iran, but they caught him while he was on his way to Spain to visit family.
“It’s mind-boggling that he was housed in a dorm with such low-level security,” the prosecutor said, comparing him to the serial killer made famous in the novel and movie "The Silence of the Lambs."
Apparently referencing Brown's comments, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas responded, "Recently, statements were made by an OCDA prosecutor that were inappropriate, uninformed, and rash. Those statements were not authorized by me or anyone from the OCDA. Those statements do not reflect the position of the OCDA."
The three fugitives reportedly had a head start of up to 16 hours before officials realized they were missing.
Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong were last seen and accounted for during the regularly scheduled 5 a.m. prisoner count at the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana, according to The Los Angeles Times. The paper reported that a second check, when the men's escape was discovered, was delayed until 9 p.m. by a brawl that some investigators suspect may have been used to cover up the escape.
Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jeff Hallock said Monday that authorities believe the men escaped soon after the 5 a.m. check.
The three men sawed through a quarter-inch-thick grill on a dormitory wall and got into plumbing tunnels before sawing through half-inch-thick steel bars as they made their way behind walls to an unguarded area of a roof atop a five-story building. There, they moved aside razor wire and rappelled to the ground using the bed linen.
The escape has drawn comparisons to last summer's breakout by two inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. A major difference is that while the search for Richard Matt and David Sweat focused on nearby woods, Nayeri, Tieu and Duong escaped in the middle of densely populated Orange County.
On Monday, investigators appealed to Orange County's huge Vietnamese population, among the largest in the U.S., in Garden Grove and Westminster just a few miles from the Santa Ana jail. Sheriff's Lt. Dave Sawyer, who is leading the investigation, said Tieu and Duong "may be embedded" there.
"We sincerely need input from the community to help us," Sawyer said. Federal authorities are offering up to $50,000 in rewards for information leading to their recapture.
Hallock said there is no evidence so far that the trio had help from the inside but authorities know it's a possibility.
It's likely someone slipped them blueprints or told them how the bowels of the jail were laid out, he said.
It was the first escape in nearly three decades from the California facility built in 1968. It holds 900 men and is located in Santa Ana, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Hallock said the facility's general policy is to do walk-throughs every hour to check on inmates. More involved searches are done randomly, he said, but declined to be more specific.
It's also unclear why the inmates — who were charged with violent felonies — were housed in a common dorm with more than 60 other inmates. Assignment to a large, busy room likely made it easier for them to avoid detection, Martin Horn, a professor of corrections at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York, told the Associated Press.
Tieu, 20, had been held on a $1 million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling in an alleged gang dispute.
Duong, 43, has been held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and other counts in the shooting of a man on his front porch.
All three men have now been charged with another felony for the escape.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.