A Florida children’s home is putting its emergency youth housing initiative on pause, after two of its participants were accused of running away, breaking into a nearby home, and firing heavy weapons including an AK-47 at police called to investigate.
On Tuesday, two residents of Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (FUMCH), in Volusia County, Florida, a 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, escaped the facility and exchanged fire with deputies. The girl was shot in the stomach and arm and is in stable condition, while the boy surrendered and didn’t sustain any injuries.
“At this juncture, the level of children who are being sent to us through emergency shelter care at times is beyond the scope of our capabilities to provide the care required and limits who we can serve as part of our mission,” FUMCH CEO Kitwana McTyer said in a statement, and explained that the program would be suspended until it can reopen in a way where “we feel that we can do so in a safe manner for the children coming into care and simultaneously protect our staff”.
Three children remain in the care of FUMCH, and alternative homes are currently being sought for them.
Both children reportedly had troubled pasts before the shooting occurred. The boy had been in foster care since at least 2017, according to sheriff Mike Chitwood, and had made violent remarks toward school administrators and a fellow student, threatening to “spread his guts all over the bleachers.”
The girl, meanwhile, was charged with setting fires in a lot near a residential area earlier this year, before being placed in foster care and trying to run away multiple times.
During the break-in, the pair allegedly took baseball bats to tubs, toilets, and furniture inside the home. This resulted in an estimated $100,000 in damage, and the homeowner said he does not have insurance, WFTV reports.
According to a USA Today investigation from March, abuse—including starvation, beatings, and molestation—are rampant in Florida’s child welfare system, a network of state and private care initiatives.
In her statement, Ms McTyler, the group home CEO, faulted the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice for letting these children fall through the cracks, blaming “gaps in the system that result in the lack of adequate or appropriate placement for children who should at times be in the care of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)”.
The DJJ told CNN that it does not directly supervise FUMCH, a mostly privately funded children’s centre.
Both children are charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, and the boy made his first appearance in court on Thursday.
Deputies attempted to speak with the children, throw them a cell phone, and established a rapport, body camera footage shows. The duo fired at police four separate times over the course of an hour.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the officers’ use of force at the scene, after a request from the local sheriff’s department.
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