Search continues for 6 of 32 escapees from DCS facility - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Search continues for 6 of 32 escapees from youth correctional facility

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Authorities say 26 of the 32 teenagers who escaped from Nashville's Woodland Hills Youth Development Center late Monday night have been taken into custody.

The search continues for six escapees. CLICK HERE to see photos of the missing inmates.

The remaining six escapees are between the ages of 14 and 18. The 32 escapees have committed crimes ranging from burglary and theft to drug-related and violent crimes. DCS officials said many at the facility suffer from mental illness.

According to Rob Johnson, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, the teens escaped shortly after an employee shift change, getting out of their dorms and slipping underneath the perimeter fence.

Officials originally said 32 inmates had escaped, but lowered that number to 30 on Tuesday. DCS officials confirmed on Wednesday that 33 juveniles actually escaped and one of them was captured immediately.

Several more were back in custody by 4 a.m. Tuesday. By 7 a.m., 15 of the escapees had been taken into custody, and by 9 a.m., four more of the teens were returned to the facility.

DCS said in a news release that police captured some of the escapees and some were turned in by their family members.

Officers combed through the area on foot with K-9s, as well as searching with a helicopter, early Tuesday morning.

Johnson said the escape happened after a disturbance.

Woodland Hills officials believe it may have been planned because of the similar fashion in which the teens escaped their dorms. Dorm rooms at the facility are required to have unlocked doors, according to DCS policy. The escapees, who were spread throughout six different buildings, went into the commons rooms, kicked out a panel below the windows and climbed out. They roamed the campus looking for any weakness in the fence and finally climbed under to escape.

When guards realized the teens were escaping, they called Metro Police for help.

Many were found close by on Briley Parkway. Others were apprehended on Massman Drive, Cannon Street, in Hartman Park and at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Several parents brought the escapees in to surrender after they returned home. Police believe they all traveled on foot. 

DCS said no staff members were seriously injured and that the fence has been fixed. 

There were 16 staff on duty in charge of monitoring 87 juveniles. "Staffing is lighter during the overnight hours, and so, presumably, they planned for that, but we don't know quite yet," Johnson said. "The facility, as I understand, is under control. They've brought in extra staff."

Many of the teenagers involved in the latest escape are not from the Nashville area, according to Johnson.

Johnson told Channel 4 News that most of the teens at Woodland Hills have at least three felonies on their criminal records.

Officials said the teens who have been found are being held at the Metro Nashville Juvenile Court and could face escape charges.

The escapees were last seen in gray or white T-shirts, dark blue pants and white or black sneakers. If you come into contact with any of the escapees, you are advised to call police immediately.

"When you have 30 persons who are at large at night, going through neighborhoods that they may not know, one could consider them dangerous," said Don Aaron, Metro police spokesman.

Metro police said the escapees had not committed any crimes they were aware of since the escape.

This is the second major security breach at Woodland Hills in recent months. 

In May, a group of teens broke out of a window inside a dorm room. Officials say they flipped a switch, which allowed others to break out. About half a dozen teens got out of the building and went into the yard. Shortly after, they were taken back into custody. Several security changes were made after the incident.

"I do know after the last one, they split some of the kids up. They sent some of them to different (youth development centers), and they looked at different staffing patterns," Johnson said.

Ten years ago, 19 offenders took over the front courtyard at Woodland Hills armed with whatever they could find. One by one, all 19 were caught without injury, but 20 staff members were hurt. A 2004 report found several problems at the facility contributed to the riot, including a shortage of emergency equipment, not having an emergency coordinator and an overall lack of staff members.

The incident led to new rules concerning guard to juvenile ratios.

In 2011, two teens attacked a kitchen worker, stole their keys and escaped. They made it all the way to Fayette County before they were caught.

Last year, the Channel 4 I-Team obtained photographs and video of guards at the facility sleeping at work instead of watching the dangerous juveniles they were paid to supervise. The guards were in a section of the facility called "the booth," where they monitor on televisions teenage juveniles in their dormitories.

Metro police have received 18 emergency calls from Woodland Hills this year.

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