In two separate escapes over the past week, four Arkansas teenagers ran away from the state-run youth lockups where they were being held, with one still at large as of Friday night.
The still-missing teen is a 17-year-old boy from the Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Center who bolted through an exit door at 9:33 p.m. Tuesday and ran off the facility’s unfenced campus into the dark, said Amy Webb, spokesman for the Department of Human Services.
A worker at the center, which had a 1-to-3 ratio of staff to youth at the time, chased after him but couldn’t see where he went, Webb said. Responding law enforcement officers combed the area about 10 minutes later, to no avail.
State officials have since issued a pickup order for him, which notifies police officers to detain him if they cross paths.
Law enforcement officials say the Harrisburg escapee was last seen in the area heading northwest on Arkansas 1. He wore a navy-blue polo shirt, a matching sweatshirt and khaki pants. One of his black shoes had been found near the center.
Poinsett County sheriff’s detectives also believe the teen could be involved with the overnight theft of a white Chevrolet Silverado from the parking lot of Ricetec Inc., an employment agency in Harrisburg, said Chris Cruise, the sheriff’s office’s chief deputy.
Whoever took the truck had rammed through the gate of the employment agency’s parking lot. It was found at 6 a.m. Wednesday, wrecked along a rural road in Wynne, Cruise said.
Deputies also noticed that another vehicle in the lot where the truck was first taken looked as if it had been slept in.
The Harrisburg Police Department, which is leading the investigation into the teen’s escape with assistance from the Poinsett County sheriff’s office, said the teen was most likely unarmed but described his past as violent.
An earlier escape incident took place Jan. 20, when three teens ran from the Colt Juvenile Treatment Center’s property, also unfenced, at 2:30 p.m, Webb confirmed.
The three had been playing basketball with staff members and other youths during a scheduled physical education period.
Staff never lost sight of the teens, caught up to them and returned them to custody without incident. They’d only run a few yards outside the facility’s property line, she added.
Escapes at Harrisburg increased beginning in 2017, according to Human Services Department records.
Between 2012 and 2016, there was only one escape at the facility, but last year, state officials responded to four escape attempts at the 36-bed facility, resulting in the firing of the facility’s director in August. In one of those incidents, three teen boys fled the site and weren’t found for more than a week.
There was also one escape at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center, a more secure lockup near Alexander, last year. Rite of Passage, a Nevada-based firm, has been running that facility since August of 2016.
The 28-bed center at Colt hadn’t had any escapes in more than two years until last Saturday’s incident, according to state records.
The latest incident at Harrisburg prompted Lt. Justin Kimble of the Harrisburg Police Department to voice concerns about the facility’s operators.
“They’ve got a problem at this place,” Kimble told the Jonesboro Sun.
His police chief previously asserted that the lockup “needed to tighten up” its security.