Records: Children’s home loses 250+ ‘runaway’ kids in less than 5 years

Community to have meeting about issue

 Records: Children’s home loses 250+ ‘runaway’ kids in less than 5 years
Records: Children’s home loses 250+ ‘runaway’ kids in less than 5 years

ENTERPRISE, Fla. – ENTERPRISE, Fla. - Enough is enough. Residents in Enterprise say they are fed up with FUMCH, a foster care group home otherwise known as Florida United Methodist Children’s Home.

“It is not uncommon to have runaways every night,” Enterprise resident Riley Nutt said. “[Staff] are driving up and down the neighborhood actively looking for runaways.”

[RELATED: ‘One giant, big failure:’ Volusia sheriff slams state agencies after runaways shoot at deputies]

“[The runways] are hiding behind residences, they are going behind people’s backyards, they are going into bushes.”

Nutt said residents have had to deal with a litany of issues from the runaways, including broken windows and burglaries.

“Frankly, we have reached a threshold,” Nutt told News 6 investigator Merris Badcock.

This is the same group home which, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, allowed two kids to escape from their emergency shelter cottage on campus, break into a nearby home and ultimately fire guns at deputies in a tense standoff.

The firing ended after deputies say they were forced to shoot one of the kids, a 14-year-old girl.

The incident was only two weeks ago.

A few weeks before the shootout, on March 30, deputies say a security guard was killed after trying to stop a FUMCH kid from running away.

The kid allegedly punched the security guard so many times that the guard, Mike Ellis, later died from his injuries.

FUMCH’s marketing director, Mark Cobia, did not respond to our interview requests on Wednesday, but after the shootout, FUMCH’s CEO Kitwana McTyer announced the closing of FUMCH’s emergency shelter program.

In his statement, McTyer did not provide a timeline for when the emergency shelter program might finally come to an end, and while the emergency shelter program may be closing, the campus will remain open.

“These are situations that are overflowing from the campus onto our personal properties where we live,” Nutt said.

The two recent, high-profile runaway situations are not the only documented instances. Through a public records request, News 6 found at least 267 runaway incidents since 2016. This is an average of five runaways a month, a number that did not surprise Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood.

“Everybody walks off-campus. That is the number one thing that we deal with because it is not a secured facility.”

Chitwood says the lack of security is one reason why the community is frustrated.

“They are runaways. We pick them up and bring them back. It is catch and release.”

Now, community members like Nutt have organized a meeting so something can be done.

“Where is our safety aspect? That is what the community is coming together to talk about [Thursday] night,” Nutt said. “How are we going to be protected from emotional behavior disordered students?”

MEETING DETAILS:

  • What: Concerned Residents Meeting w/ Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (FUMCH)
  • When: 7 p.m. June 17
  • Where: Enterprise Museum, 360 Main Street, Enterprise, FL 32725

About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.