NEWARK, N.J. (WABC) -- Authorities say three teens are at large in Newark after they escaped from Green Residential Juvenile Detention Center in Ringwood, New Jersey, Sunday night.
The teens volunteered for laundry duties on the basement floor, then tackled a 71-year-old center employee and stole his keys while he was escorting them to the basement, police said. The suspects, two 17-year-olds and a 15-year-old, all from Newark, then fled in the employee's white 2012 Toyota Sienna mini-van. The incident occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m.
A friend of the employee, a 29-year-old woman from West Milford, was in the van when it was stolen. The employee told officers she was asleep in the back of the van when it was taken.
Newark police recovered the van on New Street at about 5:00 a.m. Monday, with the woman inside and unharmed. She was transported to a nearby hospital for an unrelated complaint.
The Department of Justice has taken over the investigation, and police say there is no danger to the community at this time. The missing teens are lower-level offenders, and are considered "probationers" as opposed to juveniles who are committed there, said Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the State Juvenile Justice Commission. Lauchaire also said lower-level offenders could be in the process of returning to their communities at the end of their sentences. All appropriate law enforcement agencies have been notified and are looking for the teens.
Green Residential provides an opportunity for reform for non-violent offenders. The center is not a secure jail facility and does not have bars or fences, Lauchaire said. Students are not locked in, but they're also not allowed to leave. But last night's violent attack against the 71-year-old worker has Ringwood's police chief concerned enough to ask for a meeting with state officials about the kind of young offenders being accepted here.
"That facility is supposed to be for non-violent offenders," Ringwood Police Chief Joseph Walker said. "Obviously that was not the case here. So we're going to look into why those offenders were there, and what happened and why people with a potential for violence was put in that position."
Juveniles at large in Newark after escaping from Ringwood detention center