New Mexico officials confirmed that four of the nine boys who were reported missing from a New Mexico ranch for troubled youth have been returned to their families, after the FBI volunteered their help in the search.
Federal investigators offered their help late on Friday night regarding the incident at the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program, but so far local and state authorities have not asked the FBI to participate, a law enforcement source in New Mexico told NBC News. A search warrant was executed at the Tierra Blanca ranch on Friday amid an abuse investigation, The Associated Press reported, and the boys were found not to be on the property.
New Mexico State Police said Saturday in statements that it had been confirmed that four of the boys, Ryan Sibbett, Michael Rozell, David Easter and Charlie Lamb, are in the custody of their parents.
"Even though other parents to the missing boys have made contact with state officials, the Amber Alert will remain active until an official can confirm their location and individual well-being," the state police said in a statement Saturday evening.
"It's a very active investigation. We are treating it with the utmost urgency," State Police spokesman Emmanuel Gutierrez told NBC News earlier on Saturday.
An Amber Alert was issued on Friday evening for the missing boys, who were last seen at the ranch in Sierra County, N.M. The ranch serves “troubled or at-risk youths,” according to its website.
Scott Chandler, the program’s operator, is a person of interest, according to authorities. The ranch sprawls over 30,000 acres, according to a Dun & Bradstreet business report, and lists two employees. An attorney for the ranch, Pete Domenici Jr., did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News on Saturday.
New Mexico Police via Reuters
Scott Chandler, program director for the Tierra Blanca Ranch
Domenici issued a statement Friday in which he said that the teenagers had been “on a previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days. They are safe and have already been picked up by their parents, or their parents are en route to pick them up,” according to the AP.
Police said that until they were in a position to physically confirm the well-being of the missing boys, the Amber Alert will remain active.
“When we issue an Amber Alert, you can’t just cancel it or remove people from it based on a phone call. We as officers are obligated to make that decision on our own,” Gutierrez said.
The Amber Alert is still active for 7 boys: Charlie Lamb, 13; Bryce Hall, 17; Mayson Myers, 13; Peter Adams, 16; Oscar Ruiz, 17; David Easter, 17; and Evan Kogler, 16.
Gutierrez said they are requesting the parents of the missing boys to contact the State Police by calling 575-382-2500.
“It’s so important that they call, so that we can start getting this case resolved and get statements from the children missing from the ranch,” he said. “The more they can help us with that the better we can help the investigation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published October 11 2013, 10:30 PM