Thirty teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center by crawling under a weak spot in a fence late Monday, and seven were still on the run Tuesday, a spokesman said. The teens — ages 14 to 19 — left their rooms at about 11 p.m. Monday night and "overwhelmed" the staff in a common area, Tennessee Department of Children's Services spokesman Rob Johnson said. Eight were initially on the loose, but one turned himself into the center Tuesday evening, officials said.
"Staffing is lighter during the overnight hours, and so, presumably, they planned for that, but we don't know quite yet," Johnson told NBC News affiliate WSMV.
The group then kicked out a metal panel under a window to get into a yard, and ran for a chain-link fence. The fence is buried 8 inches deep into the ground, but the teens managed to pull up a weak portion and slip out underneath it. Staff at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center alerted police once they saw them escaping, Johnson told reporters. Two were captured immediately and others were found overnight. Some were found by authorities, others turned themselves in, and still others were turned in by their families, he said.
The doors to the youths' rooms are not locked, and they had access to the common area from which they escaped, Tennessee Department of Children's Services Director of Residential Operations told NBC News. The metal panels will be reinforced so a similar escape can't happen again, he said.
None of the 16 to 18 staff members on duty were hurt, officials said. Police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were still searching for eight of the teens Tuesday afternoon, while the other 22 were taken to juvenile court and could face escape charges, officials said. Most of the detainees at the detention center have committed at least three felonies, Johnson said, but the facility is more like a high school with security than an adult prison.
— The Associated Press
With reporting by NBC Producer Debra Preitkis-Jones