VOLUISA COUNTY, Fla. – Prior to being accused of opening fire on Volusia County deputies, the 12- and 14-year-old foster children were involved in encounters with law enforcement officers as well as state agencies designed to help them dozens of times in their young lives, records show.
The 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl ran away from Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, a foster home, Tuesday and broke into a house on Enterprise Osteen Road, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies said they were searching for the children when they encountered the home with obvious signs of a break-in. Inside the home, the children had discovered guns, including an AK-47, and ammunition.
News 6 initially decided to name and show pictures of the boy due to the seriousness of the incident and the charges he faces. However, after learning of his mental history, we will not be showing the boy or naming him in future coverage. News 6 will also no longer be naming the 14-year-old girl, who has a history of mental illness, new records show.
The boy and girl opened fire on deputies for about 30 minutes before deputies shot the 14-year-old girl and the boy surrendered, according to sheriff’s officials. Deputies withheld opening fire on the children for as long as they could, obviously conflicted about injuring children, body camera video shows. No deputies were injured during the shootout.
The 14-year-old was shot in the chest and arm, and she remains at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando, at last check in critical, stable condition.
[’GIANT FAILURE:’ Volusia sheriff slams state agencies after runaways shoot at deputies]
New reports released by Volusia County detail at least 39 encounters for the children with law enforcement dating back at least five years that paint a partial picture of their young lives.
DCF notified by deputies 12 times
Previously released records from the sheriff’s office detail that the now 12-year-old boy was held under the Baker Act three time within 10 days at 7 years old and has mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.
The girl, who is now 14, had more than 30 encounters with law enforcement beginning in 2017, sheriff’s office records show, however, most were not criminal. Deputies responded several times to the girl’s neighborhood in Orange City because she and her siblings were walking around unsupervised without shoes.
During almost every encounter, deputies notified the Department of Children and Families.
In May 2017, the girl’s mother told deputies she wanted her daughter Baker Acted “just because.” Deputies were told by neighbors in September 2018 the children knocked on their doors asking for food; during another incident that month the children told deputies they were locked out of their home. Again, DCF was notified.
The girl repeatedly attempted to bring animals home in 2019, including two ducks from a local park, which were unharmed and later released, an incident report shows. Other reports included incidents of the siblings fighting and stealing chickens from other yards. On most occasions, deputies spoke to the girl and her mother at “great length” about the behavior, writing that no crime was committed and notifying DCF.
An arrest report from a 2018 dog theft shows the girl, then 11, was arrested for grand theft after taking a dog from a neighbor’s yard. People who read about the theft on Facebook recognized the girl, according to the report, saying the same girl had come to “their house and asked for animals, electronics and food.”
Deputies spoke with the girl’s mother, who believed her daughter had found the dog, according to the report. The dog was returned to its owner.
Records show DCF was contacted 12 times before she was taken from her mother’s custody. Sometime between 2018 and 2019, the girl was placed with a foster family, according to incident reports from the sheriff’s office.
Records show the girl was hospitalized under the Baker Act at least 11 times after making suicidal statements. Her foster parent told deputies she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, ADHD, ADD and oppositional defiant disorder. Another foster parent recently told deputies she has schizophrenia.
The girl was most recently hospitalized last month after she was reported missing May 7, records show. When deputies found her, she said she did not want to go back to the group home or she would kill herself. Two days later on May 9, she attempted suicide and was again held under the Baker Act, sheriff’s office records show.
Sheriff blames DJJ and DCF for letting children fall through the cracks
The girl was recently placed with Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, where staff reported she and the 12-year-old boy ran away on Tuesday. A May 28 incident report shows she ran away from another foster home less than a week before the gunfight with deputies.
The incident reports from the sheriff’s office are only a small window into the lives of the 12-year-old and 14-year-old prior to the serious actions they now stand accused of.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood has blasted the agencies that came into contact with both youths, including the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families.
“The Department of Juvenile Justice (is) failing to do its job. DCF is failing to do its job and everybody is pointing the finger at one another,” Chitwood said.
Chitwood said both agencies are letting children fall through the cracks.
A DJJ spokesperson said it is not affiliated with the foster home where the children were housed or the foster care system and they said they do not control if a child is released or put in secure detention. Florida DJJ Communications Director Amanda Slama wrote in an email to News 6 that a judge ultimately makes that decision.
“Per Florida law, when a youth is arrested, they are screened by the Department’s DRAI, which is a tool not only developed by the Department, but a DRAI Committee consisting of our partners in law enforcement, circuit judges, prosecuting attorneys, etc.,” Slama wrote. “If a youth is then detained in secure detention or placed on supervised released, within 24 hours of that release, they go before the courts (to) determine whether or not they are held in secure juvenile detention or released into the community.”
News 6 has contacted the DCF for comment, but has yet to hear back.
The boy and girl face felony charges of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers and armed burglary. State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office said it continues to review the case for official charges.