VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - Neighbors are planning to send a petition to a Volusia County group home where two children recently ran away and allegedly got into a shootout with deputies.
People living near the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home said it has been a source of danger in the neighborhood and describe constant runaways and children living there attempting to break into surrounding homes.
Earlier this month, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy ran away from the home, broke into someone’s house, and used the homeowner’s guns in a shootout with deputies.
Neighbors said that was the breaking point and now they want answers from the group home. On Thursday night, neighbors held a meeting to discuss their concerns.
"This is a bigger issue," said the man who owns the home that was the scene of the shoot-out with deputies.
The meeting’s organizer, Riley Nutt, said they want to see change at the group home. "I don’t want to see the children’s home shut down. I want to see it go back to foster care."
Nutt said they invited officials from the group home to attend Thursday’s meeting and answer questions, but no one showed up identifying themselves as representatives.
"[We wanted them] to make us feel like we’re valued and we’re heard. But obviously we’re not because they’ve known about this several days in advanced. There could have been at least one or two representatives [in attendance]."
But Nutt said they will continue to push for answers.
"We will take all the names of the people. We will form a petition. We’ll also allow those people through email to ask specific questions and we’ll give the children’s home a second chance to speak out and address our concerns."
Earlier this month, the home released a statement after the shootout, saying it was placing a 30-day moratorium on its emergency shelter care program then stopping it altogether, indefinitely.
Kitwana McTyer, President and CEO of the home, said in the statement: "At this juncture, the level of children who are being sent to us through Emergency Shelter care at times is beyond the scope of our capabilities to provide the care required and limits who we can serve as part of our mission."
McTyer went on to say the emergency shelter care program is only one of several services they provide to more than 500 children and families each week and thousands of children they’ve served have gone on to become successful members of society.
In a statement to FOX 35 News, the group home said:
"The Florida United Methodist Children’s Home wants to acknowledge the concerns some members of our community are expressing regarding the recent events involving children who had been in our Emergency Shelter Program (ESP). The ESP represented a very small portion of the children placed at our facility.
We have decided not to take any new placements of children through the ESP and this program has been discontinued.
Currently, two children remain on our campus who were placed with us through the ESP; however, they are scheduled to be relocated to other facilities by the end of the month. We feel it is important to stress that we are on the frontlines of trying to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for children who desperately need our services.
Every one of these children is a child of God and they deserve our mercy and grace. We are thankful to be a part of this community and very grateful for the many kind words of support we have received."