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NASHVILLE — Thirty-two teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center by crawling under a weak spot in a fence late Monday, and nine of them were still on the run today, a spokesman said.
The teens — ages 14 to 19 — left their rooms at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center and went into a common area, where they overwhelmed 16 to 18 staff members, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson said.
The group then kicked out a metal panel under a window to get out of the building and into a yard, Johnson said. The teens were running in the yard for a few minutes, and then they realized they could lift part of the chain-link fence and crawl out, Johnson said.
He said the fence is buried 8 inches deep into the ground, but the teens managed to pull up a weak portion and get out underneath. Once staff members saw some of the group escaping, they called the police, Johnson said.
Two teens were captured immediately and others were found overnight, Johnson said. Some were found by authorities, others turned themselves in, and others were turned in by their parents, he said.
No staff members were hurt in the incident, officials said. This morning, local police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were still searching for nine of the teens.
The 23 who were found or turned back in to the center were taken to Metro Nashville Juvenile court and could face escape charges, officials said in a news release.
The state-owned center in northwest Nashville held 78 teens at the time of the escape, and most had committed at least three felonies, Johnson said. The center has a school, offers vocational training and career counseling, and works to move teens to less restrictive settings, according to a state website. It holds teens until their 19th birthdays, and all have been charged as juveniles, not adults. Their records are sealed.
At the center, the teens stay in single rooms that are not locked from the inside, officials said. The teens wear blue pants with white or light gray T-shirts. The clothing has no markings.
The detention center was calm and back under control early today, Johnson said. Police cars were on the scene, but there was little activity at the center or its neighbors — a women’s prison, several offices for trucking companies and other businesses.
On the western edge of the facility, the spot where the teens escaped, the closest neighbors are a frozen pizza plant and a liquor distributor. Officials said the fence has been fixed.