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32 Teens Escape Detention Center; 7 Still At Large

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Photo: Video by NewsChannel5.com

32 Teens Escape Detention Center; 7 Still At Large

CREATED Sep 2, 2014 - UPDATED: Sep 2, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Seven teenagers remain at large Tuesday evening, nearly 24 hours after dozens escaped from a juvenile detention center in Davidson County.

The teens were able to escape from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center at 3965 Stewarts Lane in Nashville.

Officials said 32 males between the ages of 14 and 18 were able to get out of their dorms, kick out some kind of metal vent, then ran around the yard until finding a weak spot in a fence. The escape happened around 11 p.m. Monday.

Don Aaron from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said Woodland Hills waited an hour and a half before calling police.

"Anytime a crime is committed or escape occurs, the quicker the notification the quicker resources can be deployed to minimize the situation," said Aaron.

The teens apparently went through the fence one at a time to avoid suspicion from the guards.

Officials said security notified police when they realized what was happening.

Once police were notified, they quickly set up a containment perimeter and began searching. Aaron said Metro Police had to dedicate a significant amount of resources to the search.

Two were caught soon after they escaped. Several more were taken into custody overnight after being found near Briley Parkway. Officials said some turned themselves in, some were located by police, and some were turned in by their parents.

They will eventually return to the Youth Development Center or a different facility in the state.

The teens were wearing grey shirts, dark dungaree-style pants and black shoes.

Rob Johnson with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services said staff members followed protocol and contacted police immediately after realizing the teens had escaped.

Officials said the teens had been detained on serious charges. Johnson said teens kept at the facility have generally committed at least three felonies each. The facility houses a total of 78 teens.

The teens who escaped had been facing a range of robbery to drugs to weapons charges. It was not known if the escape was planned or spontaneous.

There were around 18 security guards on duty when the teens escaped. All were interviewed as part of the investigation.

Officials said doors to the dorms did not lock in case of fire or other emergency.

All 32 teens were expected to be charged for escaping.

Crews made repairs at the spot where the teens got out, and checked the rest of the fence to make sure there were no other weak spots.

Extra staff was expected to be brought in Tuesday night in an effort to avoid additional escape attempts.

Johnson said officials are reviewing the situation, and he expects changes will be made to ensure a similar situation doesn't happen in the future.

"You make sure you refine the security setup we have," said Johnson. "We have to do better. We have to make the process work better."

It was not the first time an incident like this has happened. A few months ago, some teens escaped their dorms but didn’t make it under the fence.

Back in 2011, two men escaped from Woodland Hills by busting through the facility's fence in a stolen car, after jumping, punching and choking two kitchen workers.

And back in 2004, a massive riot broke out at Woodland Hills, when 19 kids armed with bricks and wooden mop handles injured 18 staff members in an attempt to escape. That attempt was unsuccessful.

Responding to Monday's mass escape, state representative Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) remains critical of a decision to bring some of Tennessee's most troubled juveniles to Woodland Hills in 2012, after DCS shut down another detention center in Pikeville, mixing them with offenders charged with less serious crimes in the Nashville facility.

"The kids that they moved into Woodland Hills should never have been there, and [DCS] knew it, every step of the way they knew that," Jones said.

It's not known how many - if any - of this week's escapees originally served time in Pikeville.