At least twice before, Jordan T. Stewart had been placed in a locked treatment center, county officials said yesterday.
Because the troubled teen seemed to have improved — he was attending school and even held part-time jobs — he had gone from institutional to group-home care.
Officials with Franklin County Children Services say the move was in line with laws requiring the agency to choose the least-restrictive environment for minors under its care.
Stewart was on an outing to a nearby park on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by a group-home staff member and another resident, when he went into the woods alone and stabbed a jogger, police said.
The 16-year-old was charged on Monday with a delinquency count of murder in the death of Jane E. Juergens, 55, of Blendon Township.
“It’s just very heartbreaking,” said Deborrha Armstrong, a Children Services spokeswoman.
She said case workers and others didn’t see indications that Stewart, who came into agency custody in 2010, was a danger to the community. “A few behavior incidents, but nothing that would indicate anything that serious,” Armstrong said.
Although group homes have some security features, minors who live in them are not held under lock and key.
“These are not secure facilities, and they are not juvenile-detention facilities,” said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Child-welfare agencies generally turn to group homes for teens when they can’t find a suitable foster home.
In Franklin County, there are 45 group homes licensed to care for children, Johnson said. Most of the residents are teens in custody of a child-welfare agency because of abuse, neglect or behavioral issues.
Consumer Support Services, the company that operates the group home at 5548 Copenhagen Dr. where Stewart has lived since August 2012, provides homes for 31 Franklin County teens under Children Services’ care, Armstrong said. The agency has a total of 107 teens in group-home care.
Consumer Support Services President and CEO Dan Swickard declined to answer questions about supervision at company homes, but he issued a statement saying the company is cooperating with the investigation.
“All employees of CSS regret that this incident occurred and want to express their deepest sympathy to the family of the victim,” Swickard said.
In about 15 months, Blendon Township police have been called to the house 25 times.
That includes five times requesting an ambulance, three times for an assault or fight, and five times for a follow-up investigation. There also were calls for a missing person, suicide attempt and larceny.
“The allegations in this case are especially horrific, and allegations of this type are, thankfully, exceedingly rare,” Johnson said. “But these are facilities that care for troubled teenagers. Some of them do have occasional calls to police or complaints from neighbors.”
Johnson said the state has received one complaint about the group home where Stewart lived. Last December, an employee was accused of punching a child. The company was cited for noncompliance and required to submit a corrective-action plan, he said.
Blendon Township Police Chief John Belford said officers found the murder weapon — a knife — in the woods. He did not know where the knife came from, and he declined to speculate about a motive for the slaying.
At 6:13 p.m. on Sunday, group-home employee Willy Mutai called police to report suspicious behavior by Stewart. In the 911 recording, he told the dispatcher that he, Stewart and another boy had gone to the park and that Stewart went into the woods. A few minutes later, a woman — Juergens — went in to jog.
Stewart later ran out of the woods with dirty clothes and scratches on his face and told Mutai he’d fallen, adding, “Don’t worry about it.”
Mutai didn’t believe it. “To me it looks like there was a struggle or something,” he told the dispatcher.
After arriving home, Stewart called his 18-year-old girlfriend, who lives in another group home, and told her he had stabbed a woman in the woods, according to another 911 recording. A staff member at the girlfriend’s home called police.
By Rita Price and Allison Manning - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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