Neighbors tired of runaway foster kids, consider petition against Volusia children’s home

Records: 250+ runaways in less than 5 years

ENTERPRISE, Fla. – A standing-room-only crowd on Thursday night considered how to address a problem they say is plaguing their Volusia County neighborhood.

“We all have our stories,” Riley Nutt said.

Nutt is a co-event organizer and lives in Enterprise.

“Share them publicly. Share how you have been personally affected,” Nutt said.

Nutt is one of many who believe a local group foster home, Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, is losing control of their foster kids.

“Where is our safety aspect? That is what the community is coming together to talk about,” Nutt told News 6 ahead of the meeting. “How are we going to be protected from emotional behavioral, disordered students?”

The home, locally known as FUMCH, has operated inside the Enterprise community since 1908. Neighbors say for most of those years, FUMCH, their foster kids and neighbors existed peacefully together. In the last handful of years, however, neighbors say troubled kids at the home have started to escape.

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That is when things start to affect neighbors nearby.

“I really think that this home is not right for these children,” a concerned resident said. “They are in and out, going up and down places, going in houses, going in cars. This is a danger to someone and to them.”

Earlier this month, Volusia County deputies say a 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl escaped from the emergency shelter at FUMCH. They later broke into a home, got ahold of guns and began firing at deputies.

Deputies spent more than 90 minutes trying to deescalate the situation before they say they were forced to shoot the 14-year-old girl to end the confrontation.

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

In March, a FUMCH security guard was killed after he tried to stop another kid from escaping, according to the child’s arrest report. The child punched the guard, Michael Ellis, so many times in the head, authorities believe he later died from his injuries.

“I don’t want to see the children’s home shut down,” said Nutt, but admitted that FUMCH seems to have lost control of their kids.

Through a public records request, News 6 found at least 267 runaway incidents since 2016. That 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,” Chitwood said.

Residents told News 6 a representative from FUMCH was supposed to attend the community meeting, but no one showed up who announced they were a public representative of the home.

FUMCH’s marketing director Mark Cobia, did not respond to News 6′s interview requests regarding the meeting, but after the shootout involving the 12 and 14-year-olds, 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.

Now, residents are hoping to sign a petition which will help get their point across.

“If they are not equipped [to handle these kids], and put the community at risk, then that is what we do not want,” co-organizer of the event Cliff Foster said.

About the Authors:

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.

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.