Boy, 14, found squatting in abandoned Detroit house

George Hunter
The Detroit News
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A 14-year-old boy is in the custody of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after he escaped a Saginaw County foster care home, made his way back to Detroit and squatted in his now-abandoned childhood home.

Police say the house had no heat or running water, although the boy kept the place clean and made his bed every day. When officers discovered him, he told them he hadn't eaten in three days.

"The (U.S.) Marshal who found him bought him lunch," said Sgt. Sarah Krebs, head of the Michigan State Police missing persons unit. "Then he was taken to Health and Human Services."

The boy was discovered in the house during a Sept. 26 missing kids sweep initiated by state police, who identified 301 missing child cases in Wayne County to investigate. Two-officer teams from more than 20 police departments were deployed to find the children, all under age 17, Krebs said.

During the eight-hour operation, police located 107 of the kids on the list. All but four of them were found safe with their parents or guardians, Krebs said.

Police were concerned three of the missing kids had been used by sex traffickers, although Krebs said it's not yet been determined if that's true, and FBI agents continue questioning them.

All the kids who were found were asked whether anyone had tried to traffic them for sex, Krebs said.

"Sometimes kids will run away from home and then they don't tell anyone (they'd been used for sex trafficking)," she said. "So we question each of them individually."

During the sweep, police tracked down the 14-year-old boy's last known address prior to him being placed in a Saginaw County foster care home, Krebs said.

"We send a lot of kids up there because the homes in Detroit are full," she said. "It's not a secure facility, so a lot of kids will walk away and make their way back to Detroit. I don't know how they do it, if they do Uber or what, but they're able to get back."

The 14-year-old boy had been placed in the foster home after his father was arrested on homicide charges, Krebs said. She added the boy's mother had lost custody of him, although she didn't know why.

It was unclear when the boy was sent to foster care, when he escaped from the facility, or how long he'd been squatting in the abandoned house, Krebs said.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton said he isn't allowed to release any information on cases involving children. Both his department and state police said they could not identify the teen because he is a minor.

Krebs said after the boy escaped the foster home, "he went to the last known address where his family was living, but they were gone and the house was abandoned.

"He was keeping the house tidy, and making his bed," Krebs said. "But the house had no utilities; no food; and he didn't have money to buy anything."

The U.S. Marshals issued a press release issued last week that led to national headlines suggesting the sweep had netted more than 100 kids who were victims of child sex trafficking.

The release, issued Oct. 3, discussed Operation MISafeKid, described as "a missing juvenile sweep to identify and recover missing children from the area with an emphasis on locating victims of sex trafficking."

The press release said: "Out of 301 files of missing children, 123 were identified and recovered safely during the operation. All 123 children were physically located and interviewed — standard protocol for the Michigan State Police."

The 123 kids in the press release included 16 children Marshals had recovered during an earlier sweep. 

However, only four of the children in that group were actually missing; the rest were merely listed as missing in police computers, Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said. Shaw said most of the kids had been reported as missing in the past, but their parents never alerted police they'd returned home.

"Many were (home-schooled)," Shaw said. "Some were runaways as well."

Investigators will continue searching for the 200 children on the list who are still missing, Shaw said.

"We get more than 1,000 runaway complaints per month," he said. "Most of those who are still missing are runaways. The investigators will continue looking for them."
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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN