The story captured the public’s imagination in part because it echoed a long tradition in American culture of narratives that celebrate outlaws, cultural scholars said.

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MALONE, N.Y. — The escaped convicts had been caught, the search was over and residents of the villages and hamlets across northern New York state were breathing a collective sigh of relief this week.

But Courtney Lord, 28, who was born and raised in this town about 30 miles from where the two men had tunneled out of a maximum-security state prison, admitted to feeling disappointed.

“I’m not glad it’s over,” Lord said. “That’s the most excitement this town has seen!”

The two men were murderers and considered very dangerous: Richard W. Matt, 49, a second-time escapee, had killed and dismembered his boss, among other crimes; David Sweat, 35, had shot and killed a sheriff’s officer and run over him with his car, reportedly while his victim was still alive. Still, Lord, who has a young daughter, found herself rooting for them to make it to Canada and turn the manhunt into an international dragnet.

“I wanted them to keep running,” she continued, adding, after some thought, “But I also wanted them to be caught.”

Even as the authorities committed more than 1,000 law enforcement officers to the search and warned of the dangers of two killers on the loose, some residents in this region at the epicenter of the search, and many more observers across the nation, found themselves hoping the convicts would not be caught — at least not anytime soon.

To some, it was a classic underdog’s battle: two guys versus the world. To others, Matt and Sweat were antiheroes, outsmarting Big Government in an age of increasing surveillance.

But many simply enjoyed the drama of a good old-fashioned manhunt and did not want it to end.

“My favorite kind of movie has always been prison escape movies, so it kind of played like a really good prison escape movie,” said Lofton Wilson, 85, a former library archivist for Harvard and Yale now living in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Wilson said she could not get enough of the story, starting her mornings by listening to news updates on the radio and finishing the day watching television coverage. And she found herself rooting for the men despite the moral ambiguities.

“I felt guilty about hoping that they would get away because they were such horrible guys,” she said.

But “it was almost like a game,” she added. “Would they make it in time? Would they make the right moves? It turned out that they were all too human and made mistakes.”

The manhunt, which began June 6 when the men were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, ended Sunday when Sweat was shot and taken into custody in a field in Constable, New York, within a few miles of the Canadian border. Matt was killed on Friday.

The chase — which involved officers from an array of local, state and federal agencies — drew hundreds of journalists to this normally quiet region and was closely followed across the country.

The story captured the public’s imagination in part because it echoed a long tradition in American culture of narratives that celebrate outlaws, cultural scholars said.

“People are excited by villains and antiheroes, and they love to have a flirtation with them,” said James L. Swanson, the author of “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.”

“That doesn’t mean that people approve of the horrific acts that these people have done,” he said. “Yet somehow people take a vicarious thrill from imagining what it would be like to be on the run.”

Noah Isenberg, a professor of culture and media at the New School, said this character has been enshrined in classic films like “High Sierra,” “Gun Crazy” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”

“It is a kind of cheering for the underdog, which is a big part of the foundational myths of America,” he said. “I think it taps into a large nodal point of vigilante justice or a kind of frontier mentality.”

The manhunt spawned at least two parody Twitter accounts, including @mattandsweat and @sweatontherun.

Bryan Suits, a radio talk show host in Los Angeles and a former member of the Washington National Guard, said he started @mattandsweat as a humorous response to what he viewed as incompetence by the authorities early in the search and the potential for satire of two escapees “bumbling in the woods.”

He was also harnessing huge interest in the story.

“Here in L.A. people were rooting for the story, even though it’s on the other side of the country, I think because it challenged everybody’s assumptions that you can’t hide in 2015,” said Suits, whose show airs on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles.

“Hey, @NYGovCuomo!” he wrote on Twitter on June 23, masquerading as the escapees. “If you want these salamanders protected, why are they so delicious?”

When Matt was shot and killed, however, Suits decided to discontinue the handle.

The manhunt called to mind the search for Eric Rudolph, which also unfolded in a rural area, the Appalachian foothills of western North Carolina. Rudolph, who was wanted for the bombing of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and attacks on abortion clinics, managed to elude the authorities for five years before being arrested in 2003.

But where Rudolph apparently enjoyed broad support among residents in that region, in part because of shared anti-abortion views, there is no evidence that Matt and Sweat received any help outside the prison walls from the denizens of the North Country (although two people on the inside are accused of helping them). And the prevailing view here appears to be that the men were a menace and needed to be captured or killed.

Indeed, several residents interviewed this week took pains to say that they kept their guns loaded during the search and that their only regret was failing to capture the killers themselves, which could have earned them a $50,000-per-head bounty.

Still, some residents admitted to being enthralled by the hunt and impressed by the escapees’ accomplishments: finding a way to get tools, cutting their way through the prison walls and tunnels, and eluding capture for three weeks.

“I’ll give them boys some props,” said Richard Norris, 29, Lord’s boyfriend. “Those boys had some serious testicular fortitude, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Norris said that as a former convict — he served a year and a half for assault and battery with a deadly weapon — he was particularly appreciative of the escapees’ exploits and, like Lord, was rooting for their flight to continue. “They really gave law enforcement a run for their money,” he said.

Adrian Sparkman, 23, a tattoo artist who lives in Constable, three properties away from where Sweat was captured, said he and his friends were also rooting for Sweat to make it to the border. “He must’ve been thinking, ‘Damn, I was so close!’” Sparkman said. “He should go in the history books, as far as I’m concerned, murder or not.”

“Honestly, man,” he added, “this is the most I’ve watched the news.”

Even some of those who said they would have been willing to shoot the men themselves allowed that they were impressed by how long they survived in the dense, unforgiving woods. One night this week, several local residents, all hunters and fishermen, gathered around the bar at the Trailside Bar and Restaurant in Owls Head, New York, near where Matt was killed, and unpacked what they knew about the escapees’ experience.

“To me it was impressive,” said Bob, a local resident who declined to give his last name because he did not want his comments to be misinterpreted as support for the men. “I know enough to know I don’t want to spend a night in there if I don’t have to. Not with those bugs.” He shuddered. “Those bugs will eat you alive.”