Three of the five incarcerated teenagers who escaped from the Echo Glen Children’s Center near Snoqualmie on Wednesday morning were arrested hours apart on Thursday, with two of the teens arrested on Kent’s East Hill and the third in Kirkland, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
After the Sheriff’s Office posted the name and photograph of a 15-year-old Burien boy on Twitter on Wednesday evening, tips led detectives to a Chevron gas station and McDonald’s restaurant in the 10700 block of South 240th Street, in Kent, said Sgt. Tim Meyer. The boy, who shot and killed a stranger two years ago, was arrested without incident at 1:30 a.m. on an escape warrant with help from uniformed Kent police officers, he said.
The teen is now in custody at the King County Child and Family Justice Center in Seattle. He is expected to make his first court appearance related to his escape on Friday.
The Seattle Times typically does not name juveniles accused or convicted of crimes unless they are prosecuted in adult court.
Around 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Kent police arrested one of the teenagers, but details about his apprehension were not immediately made available. The third teen was taken into custody just before 5 p.m. in Kirkland. As with the arrest of the 15-year-old, both arrests came about as a result of tips from the community.
Two teenagers and a state-owned 2018 gray Ford Fusion were still missing as of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to call 911.
The five boys, ages 14 to 17, serving sentences for various felonies, attacked staff members and escaped from Echo Glen around 7:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Ford Fusion, a state pool vehicle. Two of them had escaped before, Meyer said.
Aside from the five teens who fled Echo Glen this week, nearly two dozen people have escaped from the rehabilitation center since 2012, with at least one escape occurring each year during that span, according to a spokesperson for the state agency that oversees the facility.
28 escapees since 2012
On Thursday, an Echo Glen employee told The Seattle Times that management has told staff members not to discuss Wednesday’s escape with the media.
“But sometimes things have to get out before they get better,” said the employee.
The employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of being fired, said one woman was on duty at the maximum-security Klickitat Cottage, where at least 10 youths were being held Wednesday morning.
The group of escapees, one of whom had found a knife in the cottage that had been left by an employee, “slashed her and beat her up,” the employee said. The teens also overpowered a nurse who later arrived, taking his wallet and keys to the motor pool car he’d driven to the cottage, and attacked a third staff member “who was coming in as they were rushing out,” the employee said.
The teens drove the motor pool car down the main road on campus and through a checkpoint staffed by an employee at the main entrance, which has been rendered unobstructed for months since the front gate was broken last year, the employee said.
Witnesses later reported seeing occupants of the stolen car tossing out orange detainee clothing and that the car nearly struck another vehicle as it headed onto Interstate 90 westbound, the employee said.
The escape is just the latest among multiple instances in which youths detained at Echo Glen have fled the facility, the employee added.
“I saw one of the news stations saying that this was only the fourth escape, and it made me just shake my head and laugh,” the employee said. “There’s been at least one or a few [escapes] every year.”
Most of the escapes have involved one or two residents and most never come to the public’s attention, the employee said.
In an email Thursday, Jason Wettstein, the spokesperson for the Department of Children, Youth and Families — the state agency that oversees Echo Glen — provided an accounting that confirmed the employee’s statement. It showed that 28 individuals, including the five teens this week, have escaped from Echo Glen since 2012.
In all, there have been 15 escape incidents from Echo Glen — with at least one escape every year — since 2012, the accounting provided by Wettstein shows.
Many of the escapes “involve youth making it to the entrance road or surrounding woods and no further,” Wettstein said. “Many were recovered very quickly.”
Wettstein did not provide an answer Thursday as to why the main entrance gate, which has been broken since April, hasn’t yet been repaired. He noted a request has been made to fix it, and added the gate isn’t a security gate nor meant to be “a primary means to keep youth in the facility.”
“It opens automatically as people drive up,” he said in the email. “The replacement gate will not be a residential gate, but a higher security option.”
“A dangerous place”
Escapes from the facility are just one of the ongoing safety concerns facing Echo Glen staff members that need to be addressed, according to the employee.
“One guy got stabbed not too long ago, another guy had this huge kid wrapped around his neck and was getting choked out,” the employee said. “So it’s not a secret to us: This is a dangerous place.”
Exacerbating the situation, the employee said, is a high turnover rate among the staff.
“We’re underpaid and understaffed,” the employee said.
As of Thursday, Wettstein said, there were 69 youth residents at Echo Glen and 146 employees.
Wettstein added that before the escape, the Department of Children, Youth and Families had planned to undertake “a full security and operations audit” at Echo Glen “to address security challenges.”
Since this week’s escape, the agency has increased security checks and taken several other additional safety measures at Echo Glen, Wettstein said. He also detailed a number of other security measures, including metal detectors at entry points and automatic locking doors, that have been implemented over the years.
“We cannot speak today on what factors played a role in this incident,” Wettstein said in his email Thursday. “We have assembled a critical incident team to address risk immediately and determine the root cause.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this story.