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Hunt for nine missing teens continues in New Mexico

New Mexico police say that "one or two" of the nine teens missing from a ranch for troubled youth are back home with their parents. The hunt for the other missing teens continues.

By Juan Carlos Llorca and Jeri ClausingAssociated Press / October 12, 2013


Hillsboro, N.M.

Authorities say the search for nine teenagers reported missing from a New Mexico ranch for troubled youth will continue Saturday despite statements from the facility's attorney saying the boys were being returned to their parents.

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State police said in a statement Saturday that they have information that one or more children have been returned to their parents but until they "can physically confirm their well-being" the search will continue and the Amber Alert issued for the teens stands.

New Mexico State Police said they executed a search warrant at the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program as part of an investigation of abuse. But the teens between the ages of 13 and 17 weren't at the 30,000-acre compound in Sierra County and neither was program operator Scott Chandler.

Police said Children Youth and Families Department officials also went to the ranch to serve orders to Chandler to hand over the custody of the teens.

"At this time, Scott Chandler is a person if interest in this case," said Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez, a state police spokesman. "This is an active investigation and all leads are still being followed. At this point and time, State Police has not been able to confirm a location or the safety" of the teens.

Program operators had been ordered to send the kids back to their parents or surrender them to the state after staff members were accused of beating and shackling students.

Ranch attorney Pete Domenici Jr. said in a statement earlier Friday that the boys 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."

Domenici accused the state of escalating the situation by failing to agree to an emergency hearing in a lawsuit the ranch filed earlier this week over what the suit contends was an improperly handled investigation.

"We attempted to avoid exactly this type of situation by requesting an emergency hearing," he said.

Several calls Friday night to Domenici about the status of the teens weren't immediately returned.

Officers at the high desert ranch about seven miles from the town of Hillsboro said that everything looked normal when they arrived. They said there were personal belongings and no indication anyone left in a hurry.

Gutierrez said police launched aircraft and off-road vehicles and called in help from local law enforcement agencies to search the ranch.

Last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported state authorities were investigating claims that teenage boys were beaten and forced to wear leg shackles and handcuffs for minor violations of rules at the unlicensed program.

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