Teen runaways back at camp

First Posted: 1/7/2009

LOWGAP Emergency personnel who searched for four teens after they walked away from a camp for delinquent and emotionally troubled youths Tuesday night had a strong ally on their side: the weather.
After being missing from Camp E-Mun-Talee in Lowgap for about eight hours, the boys returned unharmed around 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to Lt. Marty Doss of the Surry County Sheriffs Office.
It got too cold and wet for them, Doss said of the youths, who range in age from 14 to 16. They had left the therapeutic wilderness camp off Ramey Orchard Road, operated by the Eckerd Foundation, about 7 p.m. Tuesday on foot.
In the hours that followed, temperatures dipped into the mid-30s, accompanied by heavy rain at times. They probably could not have picked a worse time than we had last night, Doss said of the weather conditions.
The youths departure from the camp that serves as an alternative to traditional detention facilities sparked patrols in the area by members of various agencies. Included were county deputies as well as personnel of the Skull Camp Volunteer Fire Department and Mount Airy Rescue Squad.
A K-9 officer also helped look for the teens.
Searchers used personal vehicles during the effort, with one official explaining that this was aimed at keeping the youths from possibly fleeing far into the countryside due to being alarmed by the presence of marked cars.
That mirrored concern about the teens being out in the deteriorating weather conditions as the night progressed.
They eventually came back it just got too cold and too wet, Doss said.
Other than emergency personnel having to devote time to the search, the youths are not thought to have caused any problems in the hours they were missing not that we know of, Doss said.
However, the sheriffs office spokesman added that a house in the area which hasnt been lived in for awhile was broken into during that period. The crime has not been linked to the missing teens, he said, but an investigation is continuing.
The incident went relatively well, said Doss, who mentioned that despite an occasional escape, the wilderness camp excels in its mission of rehabilitating youth.
When you get a lot of troubled kids together in one place, youre going to have problems, but they do a good job overall, he said of the facility that opened in the late 1970s.
Weve had nothing but cooperation from them, the sheriffs spokesman said of the camps staff. Its program includes boys ages 10 to 16 from North Carolina and other states. Some simply have exhibited unruly behavior and failed to attend school, while others have been charged with such crimes as breaking and entering and arson.
The program at Lowgap also was defended Wednesday by Karen Bonsignori, an official at the Eckerd Foundation headquarters in Clearwater, Fla.
They do good work with at-risk kids, Bonsignori said. They absolutely turn around kids lives.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected], or at 719-1924.

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