Days 3 and 4 were fairly uneventful days for us. Most of our house was on restriction and the rest went back into the honeymoon period and pretended that we were OK people. However on day 4 preparations were being made by the youngest girl in the house to cause our next big stressful crisis and learning experience.
The youngest girl in the house was 13, she had been there about 3 months and was our one girl in summer school. She had originally been placed short term after being removed from an abusive situation, but committed a crime while in placement and ended up adjudicated. She came home that Thursday and asked my wife to make her something for a party they were having the next day at school. Wanting to show how nurturing she could be, my wife baked here some muffins and bought here a two liter bottle of soda.
The next morning we dropped her off at school not realizing anything was up. At noon my wife went to pick her up. She ended up waiting outside for over 30 minutes before she went inside to check on her. The office people said that she had not been in school all day. My wife came back to the house in a total panic. I tried to calm her down and called our administrator. He acted like it was no big deal and was very calm about the whole thing, which I guess was a very good thing because I am not sure I could have handled all of us being freaked out.
He instructed me to drive by the school again, then to go to some of the local kid hang-outs and see if I could get lucky and find her. I did as he instructed, to no avail and repeated the process at least three times that day. My wife got her first opportunity to complete an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) report. The NCIC system is a national data base that law enforcement uses to track fugitives, missing persons, and runaways. I have to confess that the system works quite well. We had kids that have run away to different parts of the country and get picked up by local law enforcement. When they checked the NCIC they would quickly find out they were runaways and we would go and pick them up. We were able to find kids in California, Texas and several other towns and states by filing NCIC reports.
I can honestly tell you that experiencing that first runaway was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I was way more stressful than finding 7 knives on my second day as a houseparent. I kept having images in my mind of her trying to hitchike somewhere and being picked up by some psycho that would rape and kill her. I spent a good part of the day Saturday driving around looking for her, thinking I was just wasting my time. (I later learned it wasn’t necessarily a waste of time to drive around right after you find out someone has runaway. We have actually caught several kids doing that.)
On Sunday afternoon I got a call from the director to tell me she had been arrested and was in the local county jail. (They didn’t have a separate youth facility, they housed juvenile offenders in a separate section of the county jail) He asked if I wanted to visit her with him and I said sure, because I wanted to know why she had ran.
When we arrived I quickly saw that she did not look like the very beautiful young lady that she was on Friday (She had the looks that could have made her a pretty decent living as a model). She had taken her long blonde hair and cut it off with a knife and had completely shaved off her eyebrows. It was also very obvious that she had been using drugs and had slept very little the three days she was gone.
The one thing I remember from our conversation is asking her why, and her response was, “I don’t know, I just wanted to run.” After meeting with her the director decided she was too much of a run risk to take back and that was the last time I saw here until she was almost 17 years old. She spent the next several years in various placements and in the state Girl’s School.
Dealing with runaways eventually got easier, though they still cause me a great deal of stress. Especially when it is a girl, because they have a tendency to run farther and put themselves in greater danger. We were eventually able to move on and now joke that my wife not only let her run away, but gave her food to do it with.
This will be the last chronological entry of my early years. After this it sort of becomes a blur and I remember several events but I couldn’t possibly tell them in order, so I won’t try. Please check back as the story continues.