A 14-year-old girl who left a Florida group home was in critical but stable condition on Wednesday after she opened fire on law enforcement and was shot during the confrontation.
The girl was shot Tuesday night after she and a 12-year-old boy walked away from the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in Enterprise, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
The juveniles made their way to a nearby home and were burglarizing it when deputies arrived and surrounded the home, authorities said. The boy and the girl fired on the deputies with weapons they found at the home, including an AK-47 assault weapon and a shotgun.
The deputies initially did not return fire, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. But when the girl came out of the home’s garage and pointed the shotgun at deputies, the deputies fired and hit the girl several times. The 12-year-old boy put down the AK-47 and surrendered after the girl was shot.
A sergeant who first arrived on scene took fire, Chitwood said.
“And they are not met with gunfire once. They are not met with gunfire twice, they are met with gunfire multiple times,” Chitwood said Tuesday night.
Even as they took fire, deputies tried to de-escalate the situation by going near the home and throwing a cellphone into the house to try to talk the juveniles, Chitwood said.
But the juveniles continued to shoot at deputies from various areas of the house, the sheriff said.
“They were traversing the length of that house and opening fire on deputies from different angles,” Chitwood said. “They were out on the pool deck, they shot from the bedroom window, they shot from the garage door. This is like Bonnie and Clyde at 12 years old and 14 years of age.”
The girl was being treated at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. The Daytona Beach News-Journal of the USA TODAY Network is not naming the juveniles because they haven’t been charged as adults with a crime.
At a Wednesday press conference, Chitwood said deputies fired a total of 60 shots. Eight deputies have been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the results of an investigation into the shooting.
After he surrendered, the 12-year-old boy told investigators that once they found the guns into the house and saw the deputies, the 14-year-old girl girl said she was going to take on law enforcement like in a video game of Grand Theft Auto.
“She said, ‘I’m going to roll this down like GTA,’” Chitwood said the 12-year-old told investigators.
This is the second time this year that a serious incident linked to the children’s home has made the news. A 14-year-old boy at the group home pleaded no contest last month to a charge of manslaughter in the death of a security officer. That teenager struck the security guard during an an altercation in late March, according to the sheriff’s office.
Deputies worked close to 300 calls at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in 2020, according to a sheriff’s office press release.
The incident prompted the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home on Wednesday to place a moratorium on its Emergency Shelter Care program, which provides temporary residence for high-risk children.
The facility will stop providing that service until “such time if/when that we feel that we can do so in a safe manner for the children coming into care and simultaneously protect our staff who do a valiant job at caring for our children every day,” according to the statement from Kitwana McTyer, the home’s president and CEO.
“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,” the statement continued. “This situation is tragic and is the result of the system failing our children. These children are in desperate need of care in the appropriate setting, which is a higher level of care than we provide.”
The statement also said the children’s home had found in recent times a higher level of children repeatedly in the system with “escalated behaviors.”
“We simply cannot continue to be ‘everything to everyone,” McTyer’s statement said. “From a personal perspective, this incident is shocking to me. In my 25 years working in child welfare service, I have never seen anything like this.”
The 14-year-old girl had been living in a group home in another Florida county until April. But, on April 9, she was arrested by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office after she set six fires in wooded lots, according to authorities there.
She was charged with five felony counts of reckless and intentional burning of lands and one felony count of criminal mischief with damage over $1,000, according to a news release.
The girl was processed at the Flagler County jail and then turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which released her to her legal guardian pending a future court date, the sheriff’s office said.
At his Wednesday press conference, Chitwood said the girl had gone through teen court but didn’t comply with her sentence and eventually ended up at the Enterprise group home.
“The juvenile justice system is broke and people need to face facts,” Chitwood said. “Instead of listening to … groups who want to molly coddle these kids and pat Johnny on the head and hug Jane and tell her everything will be OK, we have an awful lot of violent criminals that are teenagers.”