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Florida children’s home pauses taking ‘at-risk’ kids after escape, gun battle

“What the hell is the Department of Juvenile Justice doing? Sending these kids to places that can’t handle them,” the sheriff said.
Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood holds a news conference Tuesday night outside a home where deputies traded gunfire with a boy, 12, and girl, 14, who had escaped from a group home. Deputies shot and injured the girl when she pointed a gun at them, Chitwood said.
Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood holds a news conference Tuesday night outside a home where deputies traded gunfire with a boy, 12, and girl, 14, who had escaped from a group home. Deputies shot and injured the girl when she pointed a gun at them, Chitwood said. [ Volusia County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Jun. 3
Updated Jun. 3

DELTONA — A central Florida children’s home that two children ran away from before engaging sheriff’s deputies in a gun battle this week will stop accepting “at-risk” children, officials said.

The 14-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy left the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home near Deltona on Tuesday and broke into a house where they found guns and ammunition, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. They began firing on Volusia County Sheriff’s deputies who were searching for them. Deputies finally shot and wounded the girl, who was reported to be in stable condition after surgery, the sheriff said.

“What the hell is the Department of Juvenile Justice doing? Sending these kids to places that can’t handle them,” a visibly angry Chitwood said. The girl had been in trouble various times over the past year, accused of stealing puppies and setting fires, the sheriff said.

Related: Florida deputies shoot 14-year-old girl who pointed gun at them, sheriff says

Juvenile justice officials said in an email that the children’s home they ran away from is not a part of its program. “When a youth is arrested in Florida, the courts determine whether or not they are held in secure detention or released into the community,” the statement said.

The children’s home, meanwhile, announced a 30-day moratorium on accepting “at risk” children, after which it will only take them when they can adequately care for them. The home’s Emergency Shelter Care program currently houses three such children, the statement said.

“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,” Kitwana McTyer, President and CEO of the home, said in the statement.

McTyer said Tuesday’s incident is “the result of the system failing our children.” She said these children “are in desperate need of care in the appropriate setting, which is a higher level of care than we provide.”

The 113-year-old facility is a child welfare home, not a secure care facility, the statement said.

“We simply cannot continue to be ‘everything to everyone,” McTyer’s statement said. “From a personal perspective, this incident is shocking to me. In my 25 years working in child welfare service, I have never seen anything like this.”