NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One of five teens who investigators said escaped from the Natchez Trace Youth Academy in Waverly says a staff member at the facility helped them get out.
Investigators said following the escape early Wednesday morning, the teens had stolen a car in Humphreys County before carjacking someone in Hickman County. According to the youth academy, all five teens have been safely located now.
But DeJuan Prime — who says he was one of the teens involved in the escape — told NewsChannel 5 exclusively that an employee at the youth academy helped the teens plan it out.
Prime says the teens and the staffer had planned the escape during the week prior.
"It's five youth who escaped to see their parents on the holidays. Yes, I'm one of them," Prime said.
Prime says rather than stealing a car at the youth academy, the employee let them have the car, letting them know where her keys would be. Inside the car, Prime says, were two guns.
"It had all her clothes in there, snacks she left behind for us, there was a big pack of crackers in there," Prime said. "She left her keys, her phone, the office unlocked, she told us a specific time to wake up and pull the fire alarms."
DeJuan's mother, Juanneika Scott, says her son was at the youth facility for counseling, not for juvenile charges.
"He wanted to see me," Scott said. "He went about it the wrong way, but when you have staff members working at facilities giving them keys and guns, I don't understand it."
Prime turned himself in Wednesday evening. After first being turned away at the Family Safety Center in Nashville, he went to the Juvenile Justice Center downtown, where he returned into custody.
The Natchez Trace Youth Academy works with the state Department of Children's Services as a foster care agency.
Wednesday evening, DCS issued the following statement:
“The Department takes allegations of this nature very seriously. In all runaway circumstances, the Department works closely with law enforcement and community partners to ensure all youth are located and returned to safety. Pursuant to state and federal law, the Department can confirm that an investigation has commenced in this case but we are unable to release case specific information regarding children or families who the Department served.”
The Natchez Trace Youth Academy also responded to NewsChannel 5's request for comment, but did not address our specific questions about whether staff helped the teens escape, with Mitchell Keymon, the facility risk manager saying:
As soon as we became aware that the individuals eloped from our Facility, we alerted the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office. We provided our full cooperation in helping the Police locate the individuals. We thank the Sheriff’s Office for their swift help, and we appreciate that everyone has been safely located.
Natchez Trace Youth Academy is a CARF-accredited residential treatment facility for boys and young men, ages 10 to 17. Our skilled team provides holistic care to individuals experiencing emotional and behavioral issues that cannot be managed at home or other treatment settings.